Coach Entz first look at replacing 25 seniors
After successfully taking their seventh national championship in eight years, the North Dakota State football team spring practices have come with some major question marks. The turnover in personnel has been well documented, with Matt Entz having the first task as head coach of replacing the largest senior class in program history.
Key positional battles have broken out in the spring to see who will be on the two-man depth chart come Target Field. While the Bison historically play cards close to the chest on close battles, here is what to expect come the close of spring football.
Perhaps the biggest decision Entz and passing game coordinator Randy Hedberg will make before the start of the season will be naming the successor to the most successful FCS quarterback of all-time.
The favorite to replace Easton Stick is a guy who could touch his record. Trey Lance showed flashes in two cameo appearances, taking advantage of the new redshirt rule that allowed redshirted players to play in up to four games.
Now with a year of the system under his belt, it feels like Lance is the next man up. He certainly looked the part of a Bison quarterback last year, both on the ground and in the air.
But Lance faces stiff competition from a bit of a wild card. Zeb Noland, a transfer from Iowa State, has also seen time with the starters in the spring. It is hard to imagine transferring from a Big 12 school to the FCS and not winning the starting job. One item in Noland’s arsenal that will aid him is his touch on the deep ball.
Also, in the competition is Holden Hotchkiss. Stick’s backup last season should not be discounted. Though in action last year, it seemed like Lance had the better of Hotchkiss.
NDSU enters the spring with six running backs on the roster. Replacing a pair of brutally efficient backs won’t be that difficult of a task. Expect a committee of some sort coming out of spring camp.
Ty Brooks and Seth Wilson already have shown their potential over the last two years. Likely joining them in the backfield is Adam Cofield, who should see an expanded role from clean-up duty last year, and Saybein Clark. The redshirt freshman played in four games last year and averaged 6.5 yards per carry. Dimitri Williams will be in his senior campaign as well.
The wide receiver room is going to be a lot younger this year with just one senior. But it will be the young guys in the lead. The Bison as of late have been a two-wideout team, and there is no reason to suspect that Christian Watson and Phoenix Sproles won’t be the Bison’s combination.
Behind those two, however, it is a bit messy. None of the other eight receivers have caught a pass at NDSU, opening up the possibility that Williams makes the switch to the outside. The running back has seen plenty of time split out wide in his time at NDSU.
Robbie Grimsley had a very successful career at NDSU, and now the Bison must worry about the back end of the defense. James Hendricks is expected to be the quarterback of the Bison defense, but who resides with him is still in question.
It is a battle of the sophomores for the strong safety position. Michael Tutsie had two interceptions last season in 12 games while James Kaczor registered nine tackles also in 12 appearances.
Jabril Cox is the centerpiece of the linebacking corps, but the Bison must replace two starters. Jaxon Brown, Jackson Hankey and Aaron Mercadel are likely candidates to win the starting gig.
Depth is once again a strong suit at the position, with 12 linebackers on the roster. Breakout candidates at the position include redshirt freshman Mark Stumpf and Jasir Cox, Jabril’s younger brother.