Every year at this time we like to look back and compile our thoughts on UND’s spring season and try to figure out if we learned anything. There are usually a few items we looked for heading into the spring season so did we get any answers?
- Our biggest concern, the offensive line, has a ways to go. Youth emerged in Ryan Tobin, Noah Mortel, and Nate Nguon. Tobin is by far the most developed of the freshmen OL. The incumbents held serve for the most part but that won’t be good enough come fall. This spring was great for reps but this summer could be huge for whoever wants to step up and win one the open offensive line jobs. Which is ALL FIVE of them.
- We have heard that RG Demon Taylor has lost weight through better training/diet and it has helped him on the field. That is good news as Taylor has the tools but needs to still put it all together.
- The offensive tackle position will be an open battle, as we stated above, throughout fall camp. A.J. Stockwell, Mat Cox, Bryce Blair, Adam Stiner, Noah Mortel, Sean Russo, and Bennett Helgren (the last three are freshmen) are all battling but it is far from clear who will be where on August 31st at Utah. Simply put, the tackle position was not good enough in 2016.
- The backup QB situation should be solidified. Our second biggest concern seems to be in good hands with the addition of Andrew Zimmerman and the improvement of Brad Heidlebaugh. Zimmerman has a long ways to go with the mental side, however, as any QB would in UND’s check-at-the-line system. Heck, Ben Bolinske looked alright himself and has talent. Much more depth than in year’s past. With the addition of Brock Boltmann this fall UND should have quality depth at QB.
- UND needs more safeties. Seems like they are always teetering on the brink at safety. With Tamas Stewart out with a shoulder injury it was hard to get a gauge on what they truly have. Two freshman, Jordan Canady and Andre Randolph got reps throughout spring but we won’t have an idea on them until fall camp. Cole Reyes is an All-American and veteran Chuck Flowers has played some and seems to be improving by the year. Vashon Tucker hasn’t played at all. So, they have two guys that have played entering next fall. Stewart needs to be a player.
- Defensive Line is getting better by the day. Depth is solid. Talent is getting better. With depth/talent come battles each and every day in practice. This makes them better and makes the team better. Plus, their are four pretty good DL coming in this fall. Simply put, the DL Dawgs need to win the line of scrimmage every week for UND to make a run deep in the FCS playoffs.
- The cornerback spot has quality, high-end talent and is starting to develop some depth. (H3–Harris, Hunt, Holm are all solid). Need Tyus Carter to return from injury and push those three. Garrett Bollant is a wild card, special teams guy. We like where the cornerback position is at. Plus, Hayden Blubaugh will be joining the group in August.
- Whoever the new running back coach is should have plenty of talent on hand. Transfer James Johannesson showed he is as advertised throughout the spring season and will be on the field next fall. With All-American John Santiago, Brady Oliveira, and Austin Gordon all back it makes me wonder just how it will happen? Speaking of Johannesson, he has drawn good reviews from those around the program. Quiet, hard-working, and listens well.
- A freshman could be starting opposite Jade Lawrence at outside linebacker. Lawrence is pretty much a lock to start on the weakside but the emergence of Jaxson Turner and Ray Haas make it interesting (those positions are somewhat interchangeable). Right now, I would slate Tanner Palmborg as the starter heading into the summer but Haas will push him hard.
- Cam McKinney is as fast/quick as advertised. He is, however, still a freshman and has a LONG ways to go. But he can pick em up and put em down pretty good. McKinney will play next fall in spot duty at wide receiver and probably returning kicks.
- Fullback Kyle Norberg may have gotten bigger over the winter, if that’s possible. He had his year of learning the fullback position in 2016. Now he needs to be a consistent blocking force for OC Paul Rudolph.
- The inside linebacker position is one big question mark (?). Donnell Rodgers should be a starter-we are high on him. But after that it is a bunch of inexperienced players battling it out. Jake Disterhaupt is a senior, yes, but he has never played ILB. After those two there are two freshmen in Jake Rastas and Jake Geier, to go along with Oscar Nevermann, who played RB last year. They need Dijon Murray to stay healthy and finally get out on the field after being on campus now for over a year. Cam Hunt could be a wild card but he missed the entire spring and valuable reps. Mildly worried about the ILB position.
- The tight ends are better athletically than they have ever been. With that athleticism and size (6’5-6’5-6’4-6’4), is also inexperience. Junior Luke Fiedler is the leader of the group and will be one starter. This summer will be huge for sophomore Alex Cloyd and freshmen Hunter Pinke & Derek Paulson. Cloyd is the one who has a full year of game reps and weight training under his belt. He needs to emerge as a down-field threat in 2017.
To sum it up:
Positions we are content with: Defensive Line, Tight End, Cornerback, Wide Receiver, Quarterback, Running Back, Outside Linebacker.
Positions we are concerned about: Offensive Line, Inside Linebacker, Safety.