What do we know for sure?  We know the 2019 spring football session is a big one for the UND Football program – possibly the biggest in the Bubba Schweigert era.

Rumors

With the changes that were made on offense combined with the losses of several all-time great players on that same side of the ball, this importance of developing & identifying new weapons and playmakers is going to be paramount.

The other side of the ball (defense) has seven starters back but a few question marks of their own.

A challenging schedule combined with the way the 2018 season ended should be more than enough motivation for this Hawks team to put in a spirited 2019 spring effort.  Spring practice begins on March 1st at 4:15pm at the HPC.

New Look UND Offense

We all know about the well-publicized change that was made on the offensive side of the ball recently.  Head Coach Bubba Schweigert fired offensive coordinator Paul Rudolph and offensive line coach Luke Knauf shortly after the season ended with a thud in November.

Fast-forward to February and everyone is now anxiously waiting the arrival of the Danny Freund era.

Freund has promised to bring a different style of offense than what the Alerus Center faithful are used to seeing.  Instead of a slower, pro-style approach UND will be transitioning to a more modern, spread look that will be similar to what the majority of the country is running these days.

Offensive line play will be simplified with only a few calls/concepts and will be a zone-blocking scheme.

The QB will operate out of the shotgun most of the time with 11 personnel as the most popular grouping (1 tight-end, 1 running back).  Meaning there will be three receivers on the field for a good chunk of the game.

UND will more than likely huddle but switch tempos as needed based on results of previous drives and so forth.

We don’t see UND going at a real fast pace but moving at a pace they feel is needed to get momentum or to keep it.

The Quarterback Battle

Along with the new offense comes a quarterback battle.  Freund has stated that it will be an open competition heading into spring ball with one caveat – Nate Ketteringham will be #1 on the depth chart.

We fully agree that Ketteringham should be #1 on the depth chart based on the fact he started all 11 games last year as a junior.  His numbers were solid – 158-289 -1,835 yards and 16 TDs vs 11 INT’s.  However, the way the offense scuffled down the stretch in the biggest games of the year makes us think that Freund will want to get the absolute very best quarterback to run his system, regardless of age.

Senior Andrew Zimmerman will be duking it out with sophomore Brock Boltmann and junior Noah Grover for the initial #2 spot behind Ketteringham.  We say initial because we also said the QB competition will be just that – a competition.

Boltmann is intriguing in that he is better suited for this style of spread offense as he is the fastest, most athletic of the quarterbacks. If Boltmann were to run the offense we see them moving the pocket more and getting him in pass/run situations out in space.

Grover is a guy who surprised some people this past fall with his play.  He is a sneaky pick to slide up the chart and make some noise.

Who Plays Where On Offense

The word we are getting is the offensive skill guys are being told they need to learn multiple positions.  Meaning running backs need to learn wide receiver concepts – smaller wide receivers need to learn running back responsibilities, etc.

This tells us guys like Cam McKinney, who possesses devastating burst and speed will be playing in the backfield more with the losses of Brady Oliveira and John Santiago. McKinney offers an outstanding compliment to senior James Johannesson’s bruising, straight-ahead style. Mikey Griebel is another guy that could end up playing some running back, as well.

The bigger wide receivers will stay as is but probably need to know all three positions.  This group is going to be pretty salty with senior, four-year players Noah Wanzek and Travis Toivonen paired with super-talented 6’5″ sophomore Garett Maag.

Want to watch a guy on offense this spring?  Check out tight end Alex Cloyd. The word is he has dropped around 15 pounds and is moving better than ever. He could be a real nice weapon from the H-Back spot in Freund’s spread offense.

Who Steps Up On Defensive Line

The Hawks lost two of their best defensive lineman in NG Tank Harris and DE Austin Cieslak to graduation.  Even though they have star defensive end Mason Bennett back they need to identify replacements for the other two this spring.

Senior Carl Engwall will contribute at both end and nose guard – we know that much.  Sophomore Jalen Morrison is going to be counted on step up at the nose guard position and take over for Harris.  Morrison weighed in at 250 last year and will need to bulk up to endure the rigors of that position.  Going against senior center Patric Rooney will give us a good feel for where Morrison sits after this spring session is over.

Sophomore Quintin Seguin will be starter or first backup at defensive end.  Sophomore Zeke Ott is coming off a major knee injury so he will not participate this spring but is ahead of schedule on his rehab.

After that UND has to be evaluating their roster to see who can be the 5-6th defensive ends.  Freshman Jaelen Johnson played in three games last fall so is still a freshman this coming year.  At only 225 pounds he will most certainly need to add size to go along with his superior quickness that surprised many during last years fall camp.  Freshman Ryan Schoenfelder is an intriguing prospect at 6’5″-245 pounds (has put on 25 pounds since arriving on campus).  Definitely one to watch if you are evaluating freshman.

Battle Royal At Kicker

Unlike a typical WWE Battle Royal, only two kickers are going to get their walk-up music called this spring.  The other two combatants will be coming down the walkway in early August.

Sophomore starter Brady Leach chugged through his freshman year with as many ups as he had downs.  It was a rollercoaster year to say the least, which is probably why Bubba Schweigert brought in a transfer at semester break.

Brady Stevens, who didn’t kick last fall while attending the University of Colorado, transferred to Grand Forks for this semester and will be the man targeted with pushing or even beating out Leach.  Stevens was set to join the Buffaloes this semester but when head coach Mike Macintyre got fired that plan fell through.

Leach seemed to gain more confidence as the season wore on, which makes sense being he was a freshman.  He ended the year 8-12 on field goals with a long of 43 yards.  Leach went 3-3 in the final game of the season at Northern Arizona.  On kickoffs, however, Leach only garnered eight touchbacks and only averaged 57 yards per attempt.  He also kicked four of them out of bounds.

To add to the festivities, UND is bringing in both Reid Sanders of Plymouth, MN and Evan Arenz of Mandan, ND in the fall to create a real knockdown, dragout competition at the kicker/punter position.  Should be interesting to see it unfold.

Bonus Coverage – Safety Competition Opposite Canady

We lied.  There are actually six storylines going on as we head into spring ball.

A spot that is near and dear to my heart – Safety – needs to be more of a strength in 2019.  If you get average safety play you get average results – I have always felt that way and always will.

Good safeties clean up any screwups that happen up front or any plays that bust through, in general.  Think Cole Reyes 2015-2016.  An opposing running back would sprint through an 8 foot wide hole, crowd would tense up thinking a huge play is coming, and out of nowhere Reyes flies in and knifes the guy down for a 3 yard gain. Defense is energized – offense is demoralized because they knew they had UND on that play but one guy ruined it.  To sum it up – we need to see more of that.

Jordan Canady had a solid 2018 campaign and will be the starter at strong safety for the 2019 season.  The junior from New Berlin, WI compiled three interceptions and seven breakups.  But he is the guy we need more from and to say that isn’t a knock. It’s actually a compliment in that we feel he can do it – the size (6’2″-205), talent and speed are there to be a playmaker back there. With a full season under his belt now is the time for Canady to take over as the leader of the defense.

Senior Lenny Nelson has the inside track on the other safety spot but is out for spring ball with an undisclosed injury.  This opens the door for several other guys to make a run at it.  Tykreise Johnson started nine games last year so he has experience and will be in the mix, as well.

Ty Shannon played in 10 games in 2018 and notched 24 tackles.  The junior out of Denver is another guy with good size (6’2″-200) and overall athleticism to make a run at playing time. Hayden Galvin (6’2″-200) redshirted this past fall and it should benefit him greatly by having a full year in the system before having to contribute.  He actually played in four games before electing to redshirt – notching a big first half interception out at Washington.  A wild card of the group is freshman Kadon Kauppinen, who much like the other safeties has good size (6’2″-195) and impressed greatly during his redshirt time on the scout team.

The talent is there to create a formidable two-deep roster at safety but who will step up and take over will be something to see unfold.

 

 

  1. Photo courtesy of fightinghawks.com
  2. Photo courtesy of fightinghawks.com
  3. Photo/Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports