Overall, it appears the defense is playing pretty well. We are tempering our enthusiasm based on last year’s results but they seem to be playing at a quicker tempo, etc. It is also apparent they are starting to build the depth needed to compete at the FCS level but it will be an ongoing process. This year’s freshman class is by far the best defense group they have brought in since the transition to FCS and should solidify a host of positions in the next couple years.
Tackling in fall camp appears to be much better thus far. Making a few one-on-one tackle’s at key times can change the outlook of an entire game. Last year they missed way too many of those type’s of tackles and it resulted in a historically bad year for the defense. The players need to execute better this season.
The defensive line is one of those positions that is starting to build some quality depth. Starters Seth Stanchik and Spencer Cummings are the anchors and are going to relied on to play the majority of the snaps. NG is where there is a mass of humanity in starter Ben Henson, freshman Mike Edwards, and freshman Marcus Cheatom, who could get his redshirt pulled but needs to show more. We like what they have at NG. The defensive end positions are where quality depth needs to be developed through game reps. Senior EJ Welch will be in the rotation and we are expecting a big jump from him as he has been playing well thus far. After that we are watching to see who emerges out of the group of Kyle Woodsmall, Alec Carrothers, and Humberto Espinoza, who didn’t play much early but now is out there consistently.
Still watching the corner battle opposite Daryl Brown. Chris Hall looks to be the starter but Chris Brown has also had a nice camp and will play. Unfortunately, freshman Dan Konowalski had some sort of academic issue and does not appear to be eligible to play this fall. We will see if anything changes when school starts.
Will Ratelle has solidified his spot in the ILB rotation behind Garrison Goodman. Early on he was listed behind senior Brian Otto but Ratelle has had a nice camp so far and we see him moving up the chart.
The battle at OLB is with the backups. Seniors Dom Bennett and Cordero Finley have a stranglehold on the starting spots. Sophomore Dayo Idowu seems a lock for the one backup spot but the other is up in the air. Junior Garrett Reineke and junior Alex Hickel – both local boys – are right there midway through camp. Hickel is currently Bennett’s backup on the strongside while Reineke is behind Idowu on the weakside. Freshman Taj Rich is another we are watching to see if he is able to play his way onto the field this season other than special teams. To get on special teams the player must be in the Top 3 of his position.
Highly regarded freshman safety Cole Reyes is having thumb surgery in the near future. We don’t know exactly what happened but Reyes had an outside chance of getting his shirt pulled based on what we saw from his high school film and his natural fluidity in the back row. This injury should render him to a redshirt year this fall.
Even though there is 11 safeties on the roster, don’t be totally surprised if true freshman Cam Kuksa gets a look at playing right away – like vs. Valpo. He has had a nice camp and could easily pass up a few of the veterans to nab one of the backup safety spots. Kuksa is very athletic and loves to hit. He is a physical threat to WRs over the middle.
We are starting to think Chavon Mackey may have been a safety playing corner this whole time. He has looked alright so far this fall camp at his new position but needs to bring consistency if he is going to play safety. Baylee Carr should be the other starter vs Valpo.
Keep an eye on safety William James this fall. He may not log a ton of defensive reps but he will undoubtedly be on most special teams. The Swedish transfer loves to lay the lumber and should provide some entertainment on UND kickoffs.
As far as first-year eligible players go (redshirt freshman) here are following guys we feel will see the field consistently this fall (either on defense or on special teams):
– Brian Labat (ILB) Mostly special teams if gets in Top 3
– Taj Rich (OLB) Mostly special teams if gets in Top 3 at OLB
– Mike Edwards (NG) Nose guard reps
– Devin Coyle (S) Mostly special teams (currently 3rd on depth chart at S)
– Alec Carrothers (DL) Defensive end reps
*****We have decided to move our Q&A to early next week to have it closer to gameday and also more information will be out by then. Let us know in comment section if there is any interest in having another one and we will hammer down an exact time and date!