Now we will give our impressions of the UND defense, both from the spring game and from an overall spring ball prespective.
- Tackling appeared to be much better than we remember it from last fall when it was atrocious. There were still a few missed tackles and some bad angles taken – on a bubble screen by a safety, for example, but all in all it looked better on Saturday. Being able to tackle the ball carrier in the open field and thus making the offense snap it again in search of a first down is huge when trying to win ball games. One instance of this we noticed was the backside pursuit by freshman corner Dan Konowalski on Jer Garman’s long run that ‘got out the gate’. The UND defense gave up way, way too many easy first downs and big plays last year simply by missing a one-on-one tackle.
- The Defensive Line did create some pressure at times, which is not always easy to do in a 3-4 scheme. Spencer Cummings and Seth Stanchik both broke through forcing the QB to scramble, with Stanchik also forcing a QB fumble in the end zone for a TD. In the run game, there was too much consistent push backwards for the D-Line quite frankly. They have to be better individually at executing assignments and holding their run fits in order to be a good run defense. Defensive line is a critical area of the defense that needs to get shored up.
- The secondary did not have a very good day overall. However, a lot of that has to do with the receivers they were going against. UND’s receivers are just plain better than UND’s secondary, man for man. We did like the fact they appeared to be playing with better technique and were around every ball but just couldn’t make the play vs. the much bigger and faster wide receivers. The open field tackling by the secondary was noticeably improved on Saturday from last season. This is a group that we feel will be improved come fall camp based on the experience in the Big Sky and an improved, deeper overall talent level. One guy who has stuck out to us is sophomore cornerback Rumeal Harris. The Eden Prairie product has shown some nice footwork and instincts at the cornerback position and is definitely improving as he gets older, which is not always the case. His playing experience from last season will help him in 2013.
- Sophomore ILB Will Ratelle was another guy we noticed in the game. He had a nice inside blitz where he fought throw two interior offensive lineman to get to the QB and register the sack. He is an all-out, all-guts type of player who lives off of that kind of extra effort.
- Freshman OLB Taj Rich has to be the surprise of the defense thus far in spring ball. Rich has shown legitimate play-making ability and has the size (6’1″-225) to play the run and also rush the passer. He will be in the mix come fall, most likely backing up seniors Dom Bennett and Cordero Finley.
- Freshman OLB Dayo Idowu had a nice game. He is basically a safety in body type and athletic ability and it showed as he seemed to catch our attention on multiple plays early on in the game. We see him getting a fair amount of game reps next fall also, similar to Rich.
- Two other youngsters that we noticed were sophomore safety William James from Sweden and sophomore LB Alex Nelson out of Minot, ND. James is a guy who likes to hit from the safety position. He reminds us a little bit of former Sioux safety Kris Ankenbauer in that respect. He is still acclimating to the program/defense but should factor in heavily on special teams. Nelson is a bigger LB who could actually contribute next year on defense and provide depth. Both of these guys should be on numerous special teams – they are effort guys.
Overall, we loved how “active” the defense looked on Saturday. They played with a little fire and were always hustling to the ball no matter how far away it ended up. They are going to need that kind of intensity and effort to improve their play come Big Sky season. There is massive room for improvement with this unit but they did appear to be playing faster and looser, which tells us experience may be setting in for some of the guys and they are starting to understand the schemes much better.