Coming off a landmark season which saw them reach the FCS Playoffs for the very first time, UND now heads into the always important spring season with plenty of enthusiasm…and some question marks.
On the defensive side of the ball UND is looking to build off a solid 2016 season. In Big Sky play UND ranked:
#1 – Scoring Defense (22.0 pts/game)
#2 – Total Defense (355 yds/game)
#1 – Rushing Defense (91.3 yds/game)
#10 – Pass Defense (263.9 yds/game)
#3 – Pass Defense Efficiency (124.2)
#1 – Interceptions (20)
#1 – Interceptions for TD’s (4)
#2 – Sacks (28)
#2 – Opponents 3rd Down Conv. (34.4%)
*Returning Starters – 6
Biggest Holes To Fill
- Outside Linebacker
- Losing seniors Brian Labat and Jawon Johnson is definitely a loss at that position. Both of them played, started and logged extensive reps last season. Labat was a mainstay out there for four years and his leadership will be tough to replace. He was really, really good at getting to his landmarks when he dropped in pass coverage and made some plays on the ball. Hopefully, the young guys were watching how Labat played the game.
- The bright side is UND had quality backups in sophomore Jade Lawrence and senior Jake Disterhaupt. There is talk that Disterhaupt may be moving to inside linebacker to create more depth there and get the young, talented freshmen more reps at the outside spots where UND is deeper.
- Sophomore Tanner Palmborg will be moving to OLB from his safety position. This is an excellent move for Palmborg, who at 6’1″-210, played more like a linebacker, anyway.
- Speaking of those freshmen, the defensive staff is very high on Ray Haas and Jaxson Turner. Haas, 6’4″-210, played safety in high school and has wowed the staff with his speed/agility out in space. Turner, 6’2″-200, is another great athlete that will be able to cover in space and also rush off the edge. Turner is ‘punt returner athletic‘. So don’t be surprised to see him catching punts this spring.
- The wildcard in the group is sophomore Keelan Poole. He played the majority of the 2016 season on special teams but now that Poole is a sophomore he will be one to watch at OLB this spring. He needs to step up.
- Sophomore walk-ons Hayden Vogel and Andre Steiger will be providing depth at the OLB position.
- Inside Linebacker
- UND returns strongside starter and leader Connor O’Brien (3rd in tackles with 67) but loses starter Dylan Bakker and backup Taj Rich and Jake Hanson, creating a depth void, at least intially. Bakker had an all-conference type of senior season, while Hanson played more as the season went on. Rich was injured most of the season but did play sparingly.
- Vying to fill Bakker’s weakside LB position will be sophomore Donnell Rodgers, who had a standout freshman campaign in 2016. Rodgers amassed 38 tackles, 6 TFL’s and 3 sacks in backup duty.
- Freshman Jake Geier has been moved from safety to inside linebacker and will bring a more athletic profile to that position than normal, which is much needed. Oscar Nevermann, who began as a running back and got injured in his first game last year, will switch to inside linebacker this spring. We really hope Oscar can fit here and help the team. His run of bad luck has been discouraging to say the least.
- Senior Jake Disterhaupt is the wildcard at ILB. He plays like a safety and will be a bit undersized for a weakside ILB. Disterhaupt notched 28 tackles, 5 TFL’s, and 2 sacks in 2016 from is OLB position.
- Freshman Jake Rastas and Matt Marler will be looking to show their talents this spring and solidify a spot for fall camp. Sophomore Corby Richman and senior Michael Thingstad are also in the mix at ILB.
Looking To Develop Depth
- As you can see by the stats listed above, UND was ranked 10th in pass defense last year. Part of the reason was youth and giving up too many big plays. The youth thing can go away but giving up big plays needs to be addressed.
- UND returns All-American Deion Harris at the left corner position and sophomore starter Torrey Hunt at the right corner spot. Evan Holm will be battling Hunt, once again, for playing time as those two split time last fall. Those three are all rock solid.
- The problem is after those three it is all unproven. Tyus Carter, who started as a true freshman before being injured, is still out with a shoulder injury. Junior Garrett Bollant will continue to be a backup and battle for playing time via special teams.
- UND has moved 6’4″ WR Tim Dulin to cornerback to see what he can do there, an interesting move to say the least. Dulin was buried on the depth chart at WR, but to his credit wants to stick around and try to get on the field.
- UND returns consensus first-team All-American Cole Reyes at the strong safety position but does lose Zach Arnell, who wasn’t given a 6th year of eligibility by the NCAA.
- To remedy this they signed juco safety Tamas Stewart this past winter and he will be slotted at free safety this spring. UPDATE: Stewart apparently was injured recently and won’t be participating in spring ball. That is very unfortunate for Tamas.
- Stewart will be battling senior Chuck Flowers, who played off/on last fall but really progressed from his sophomore year.
- The wildcards are freshmen Jordan Canady and Andre Randolph. Both are highly thought of in the program and should play next fall. They will need to show a working knowledge of the defense this spring however.
- Sophomore Vashon Tucker will be a backup and continue to contribute on special teams.
- We have been told freshman Tim Ryan did not return after semester break.
- Defensive Line
- Arguably the deepest position on the team is once again the defensive line. UND plays a 3-4 scheme, which means there are only three out on the field at a time. However, much like their brothers over at the REA, UND runs their DL in and out like hockey lines. Three in, three out. That way the players can stay fresh and take the beating up front and not be wore down in the fourth quarter.
- UND loses all-conference defensive end Noah Johnson, who was arguably their most dynamic playmaker along the defensive line. They also lose four-year contributor Alec Carrothers, who logged a lot of reps in his career at UND.
- However, UND does return nine defensive lineman that played in game action. Seniors Drew Greely (4 TFL-4 sacks) and Brandon Dranka (6.5 TFL-1 sack) are the leaders of the defensive line. Both are undersized but use speed and quickness to their advantage in UND’s twisting/stunting type of defensive line scheme.
- Senior Nick Schmitz has been a bit of a surprise in his time at UND. The former walk-on has slowly rose up the depth chart to the point where he was a consistent contributor last season.
- The big man in the middle is Tank Harris. The junior out of Chicago has improved greatly in his time at UND and had a strong 2016 season.
- Backing up Harris will be junior Steve Greer. When healthy, Greer is the typical nose guard type, not afraid to muck it up on the inside and take up blockers.
- We believe junior Austin Cieslak will be sitting out spring ball due to injury.
- A player we are projecting as making a big jump after getting a ton of reps last year as a freshman is Mason Bennett. At 6’4″-240, Bennett has the size and twitchy style of play to be a disruptive force from his DE position.
- Sophomore Carter Wilson is another player, like Bennett, who is expected to take a big leap forward next season. Wilson is a 6’4″ wirey type that is able to rush the passer and create some plays on his own.
- Sophomore Carl Engwall should be healthy after missing part of the 2016 season. He will be in the rotation at DE. Freshman Colton Hessenflow is a walk-on that will be fighting for a spot in the rotation.
Not Participating: ILB Cam Hunt, ILB Dijon Murray, CB Tyus Carter, DE Austin Cieslak, S Tamas Stewart.