UND had an unexpected loss at linebacker this spring as Fighting Hawks coach Bubba Schweigert said Wednesday that senior captain Connor O’Brien will retire from football due to injuries.
O’Brien’s absence leaves a pretty significant hole at inside linebacker. UND now will have four new starting linebackers from the 2016 defense, which started O’Brien and Dylan Bakker inside and Brian Labat and Jawon Johnson outside.
Donnell Rodgers has proven to be a pretty reliable inside backer and is the leading candidate to hold down one of the starting spots, but the other side is a big question mark — both for the starting role and for the depth behind the starter.
Who might we see there?
- Jake Disterhaupt. The senior made 28 tackles and had two sacks last year while playing outside backer. He has a ton of game experience, although it’s not completely clear yet how his skill set and size will translate inside. My prediction is that he’ll be really solid there. UND made the move with Disterhaupt before O’Brien’s injury and that turns out to be a pretty important strategic move.
- Jake Geier. The redshirt freshman generated perhaps the most buzz of his recruiting class, but the Andover product was originally slated as a safety and spent his first year on campus learning that position. Geier’s frame is better suited for linebacker than safety, but the youngster has a lot of learning to do now. Geier has the tools to be a future star, but it might be too early to expect great things in 2017.
- Dijon Murray. The junior college transfer is a wildcard. It’s anticipated that Murray can help provide depth inside and probably play some special teams, but he spent most of last season injured and hasn’t been on the field for spring ball yet this year, either. It’s hard to project his impact simply because I haven’t seen him play a whole lot even in practice.
- Oscar Nevermann. After a tough-luck 2016 in which the Wyoming transfer was injured for the season on his first carry at running back, the Sweden native is giving linebacker a try. He looks the part, but he’s going to need a ton of reps to be comfortable at inside backer.
Cameron Hunt is another name that could make an impact, although he’s injured this spring and missing out on some valuable reps. I would also imagine the O’Brien news ramps up the speculation from national signing day that Noah Larson out of Wisconsin could play as a true freshman.