UND is scheduled to begin spring football practice on this coming Monday, March 25th. Considering there is a foot of snow on the turf at Memorial Stadium, we are a little skeptical they will be able to open up practice at outdoors. They could move everything into the Alerus, but we aren’t sure about scheduling and availability. Will be interesting to see how it unfolds. Our guess is they will try get it ready to go being the weather is supposed to be in the 30’s for the next week, at least. If not, they will be inside at The Alerus.
Here are a few things that we are looking forward to tracking as spring ball progresses:
- The QB battle. We cannot remember a time when UND has been this inexperienced at the most important position on the field. They will be having 3 redshirt freshman battling for the starting position next fall. The early favorite is Joe Mollberg, the highly recruited QB out of Detroit Lakes. We have heard Mollberg has put on 15-20 pounds and is definitely looking the part. Ryan Bartels is another redshirt freshman who will battle for the starting spot. The freshman out of Illinois is a bit taller than Mollberg but is not as fast. Bartels will be more of a pocket passer during his career while Mollberg will always have the ability to run it. The third QB is walk-on Jake Hanson of Grafton, ND. Hanson is smaller in stature than those two but has the running dynamic in his game also.
- The safety positions. Safety was without a doubt a weak spot on the team last season and needs to be shored up in a hurry. With the graduation of Erik Mersereau and the departure of Clordion Kennedy, UND only has junior Baylee Carr and senior Will Lewis back with any experience. Those two will most certainly be the starters at the start of spring ball. Sophomore Javen Butler was high regarded out of high school and finally joined the team last season so he has one fall under his belt but needs to progress this spring. Two redshirt freshman who impressed in the fall are Ryan Cain out of Iowa and Devin Coyle, the walk-on from Mandan. They are both going to be counted on to provide depth and push the previously mentioned safeties. Right now, in our opinion, both safety positions are up for grabs.
- Who steps up along the defensive line? UND lost three valuable seniors in Ross Brenneman, Devin Benjamin, and Jay Nelson. All three of those guys logged major reps for the UND D-line over the past 3-4 years. Guys like Seth Stanchik, who apparently had a nice winter in the weight room, Spencer Cummings, and EJ Welch are going to have to be the workhorses initially due to their experience in the system. All three have the size to play but will need to show they step up and take over the reigns for the three departing seniors. Redshirt Freshman Mike Edwards impressed everyone in the fall as a member of the defensive scout team. If he continues to progress Edwards will most certainly be starting at NG in the UND 3-4 defensive scheme. Redshirt Freshman Alec Carrothers is another guy that we heard good things about. He is a bit smallish for a DE at 240 but has great athleticism and could even be put at the strongside OLB position in running situations. Junior Ben Henson will continue to log reps at the NG position and provide depth.
- J.J. Robertson. Hard to call him a transfer because he never enrolled at Illinois after committing their in high school. He will be a freshman with UND this fall but hardly looks like a freshman. This past winter Robertson, a 6’0″-185 wide receiver, benched 370 pounds, which is amazing. He also was said to be one of the fastest UND players during conditioning drills. There is a reason why the kid was a 3 star recruit out of high school in the state of Illinois and we are excited to see him perform this spring. Hopefully he can stay healthy all spring. We have concerns about his body being able to hold up and be in ‘football shape’ since he hasn’t played football for a year and a half.
- ILB position. The incumbents, Ben Peters and Garrison Goodman are both solid starters and can be penciled in if healthy. The true battles will to be who pushes those two. Sophomore Will Ratelle apparently had a monster winter lifting session and the St. Thomas Academy product could easily work his way into a backup role along with getting consistent game reps. A player we heard a ton about this fall was redshirt freshman Brian Labat of Detroit Lakes. Labat has the size (6’2″-220) and the speed to be a nice ILB for UND for years to come. He is also a very intelligent kid, which no doubt helps at a position like ILB with all the checks they need make.
- The attitude and temperament of the defense. New Defensive Coordinator Josh Kotelnicki will be in charge of turning around a defense that took its lumps in their 1st season of the onslaught of Big Sky offenses. From the trenches to the back row, the defense has to get better across the board. More pressure on the QB, better run fits, and improved secondary play against the pass will all be points of emphasis. Ironically, all of those things play and feed off of each other. The defense needs to step up because more than likely, the offense won’t be at the same break-neck efficiency and pace as it was in 2012.