The five burning questions for the North Dakota State football team this spring and my prediction for each:
- How will the West Coast offense evolve under new offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham?
Evolve was the catchword used by head coach Chris Klieman when he named Messingham to replace Tim Polasek. It’s not as if the Bison will go all-Big Sky on everybody now with Messingham, who spent last year at Montana State. The Bison will still use the power running game as the staple, will still have the short passing game that needs to be a little sharper and will still take the long shot from time to time. Any changes will most likely be subtle to the casual fan
- Who will be this spring’s emerging player?
This is always a wild guess because it could be from a lot of like 50 guys, but I’m going with the odds-on favorite in 6-3, 230-pound linebacker Jabril Cox. It took me five seconds to realize this when I saw him in an interview with Dom this morning after practice at the Bubble. The guy is a physical gem and it makes you wonder what Missouri or Iowa State or any Big 12 team for that matter was thinking when they didn’t offer this kid. If he picks up the defense, and that’s always a big “if” for a redshirt freshman, not sure how you keep him off the field.
- What do you do with Matt Plank?
Plank is a senior leader with veteran presence so he will be the starter on opening day with Nick DeLuca starting at an outside linebacker position. That’s an educated guess. But as Plank told us this morning, it will depend on the opponent as far as the dynamic of he and DeLuca fitting together. For instance, Plank said he figures DeLuca will probably play more middle against a high-tempo, spread team like Eastern Washington because he is better against the pass. At 6-3 and 248 with speed, anybody else curious to how dominant DeLuca can be as an outside ‘backer?
- Which young offensive linemen are ready for prime time?
This is a better question for offensive line coach Conor Riley about halfway through spring ball — and he’ll be getting this question a lot this spring — but it’s no fluke redshirt freshman Dillon Radunz was immediately installed as the backup left tackle with sophomore tackle Zack Johnson moving to the right side. You don’t just throw a freshman to the high-money blind side position if he doesn’t have skill. Moreover, Klieman hinted of moving starting left tackle Colin Conner inside from time to time, which would mean Radunz would be the first freshman to play a lot at left tackle since Billy Turner. I also like freshman Cordell Volson’s size. Also curious to see how freshman Karson Schoening fares in his first spring at center.
- Will the defensive backfield find some depth?
One thing we’ve learned from the Klieman era is if you’re not ready to play, you’re not going to play. The Bison just don’t institute depth for the sake of depth; you better be good enough to do the job. It’s why the linebackers have rarely rotated in recent years and last year, safeties Robbie Grimsley and Tre Dempsey and cornerback Jalen Allison rarely left the field. Eric Bachmeier is the backup free safety and sophomore Jaxon Brown is the backup strong safety. I’m not sure this question will fully be answered until three games into next season.