10 things to watch for heading into Saturday’s spring game
Published: Thursday, April 19, 2012
Updated: Thursday, April 19, 2012 15:04
With the annual spring scrimmage kicking off tomorrow at 1 p.m., here are ten things to watch for as the 2012 NDSU football squad gives fans a first look.
10. TV cameras
For the first time, the NDSU spring football game will be broadcasted statewide on NBC. Therefore, it's necessary for any students in attendance to bring their game faces and put on a show worth watching. This is a chance to plug NDSU to a statewide audience - make it count.
9. Esley Thorton
The Bismarck native gets to showcase himself against, what should be one of the best starting defensive units in the Championship Subdivision and on the aforementioned statewide TV. With competing backup Carson Wentz out with an ankle injury, you can bet he'll take every advantage to make the opportunity count and put the pressure on starter Brock Jensen.
8. Starting defensive secondary
Thorton won't get it easy, though. The starting four of Marcus Williams, Christian Dudzik, Colten Heagle and, conjecturally, Brendin Pierre might be one of the most heralded secondary units in recent memory for the NDSU defense. They've been shutting down receivers all spring and should look in prime form on Saturday.
7. Grant Olson and company
Two reasons: first, Olson is the heir-apparent to the starting linebacker job that Preston Evans held for four years and will be a vocal leader on this defense. Secondly, with new linebackers coach Steve Stanard; this group will need to shoulder some of the leadership load. Watch how Olson works on the sidelines especially.
6. Matt Jones
The redshirt freshman linebacker has arguably been one of the more flashy redshirts on the team, making slick cuts and nabbing a few long touchdown runs in practice. With just three linebackers on the roster in the spring (they'll be supplemented in the fall), Jones and starter Sam Ojuri should get plenty of touches to preview what should be a great tandem in the fall.
5. The tailgate scene
You read correctly - tailgating starts at 9 a.m. in the west lot. Normal rules apply, so show up with some Bison gear and an appetite. Start up a game of catch; get a “Let's Go Bison” chant started and sample what should be some choice cuisine. It's a little slice of fall right here in April - make it count.
4. Tight ends
Another big loss at a key position in the Bison offense was tight end Matt Veldman, who also might find his way onto an NFL roster this summer. The tandem of Taylor Nelson and Kevin Vaadeland both have some solid pass-catching ability and have made strides as blockers this past season, and with the wide receiver position likely looking to some incoming freshmen to fill out the roster, quarterback Brock Jensen will likely look to his tight ends more often to make plays. It'll fall to those two, and Luke Albers (who caught a long touchdown pass from Thorton in last weekend's scrimmage) to give Jensen that faith in the spring game.
3. The offensive line
Now we're getting into actual “position concerns headed into the summer.” The o-line lost two key guys in potential NFL draftee Paul Cornick and fellow teammate Austin Richard. Senior Joe Lund should have the line ready to battle, but replacing those two is a tall order and even facing the number-twos the starting o-line will be legitimately challenged. Jesse Hinz is a guy to keep an eye on, and Anthony LaVoy moved to offensive line from defense and has made some forward progress as well. Tyler Gimmestad, Billy Turner and Lund are the three penned-in starters.
2. Special teams
Specifically punter Ben LeCompte and kicker Adam Keller are on the watch list, but also returners Ryan Smith and Marcus Williams (both of whom had big plays this past year returning punts and kickoffs). LeCompte particularly is a critical piece in the puzzle as the past few years, field position has been a major advantage Bison teams, including the 2011 FCS champions, have enjoyed.
1. Wide receivers
Still very much a position of need, but with starter Zach Vraa likely out for the game it's just slightly less of an absolute “keep your eyes locked here” kind of spot. Ryan Smith is the returning starter who should be making plays left and right, but junior Cooper Wahlo Jr. has made some big strides this spring and could get a starting nod. Fargo product Andrew Oklund will be taking the field as well and has gotten his share of attention the past few weeks.