The UND football program wraps up spring practices Friday at 5 p.m. with the annual Spring Game at the High Performance Center.
Doors open at 4:30 p.m. The team will go through about 50 plays and have some 1-on-1 competitions. Don’t be surprised if there’s about 100 recruits and their families in attendance, too.
I’ll give you a few things to look for, apart from the obvious names like John Santiago and Keaton Studsrud and so on. The stars won’t see a ton of time anyway.
- New faces. For a lot of fans, this will be a first look at the mid-year transfers. Unfortunately, junior college safety Tamas Stewart hasn’t been practicing after suffering an injury during pre-spring workouts. But there’s still plenty of new guys worth keeping tabs on. The two biggest names to watch are James Johannesson and Cam McKinney. Johannesson is a running back transfer from Minnesota who starred at Fargo South High School. He’s a big body who will work into the mix in 2017, and I’m curious to see how he handles some live situations. That’s the big question yet to be determined because Johannesson has all of the measurables as far as speed and strength. McKinney is a true freshman deep threat at wide receiver. He’s extremely explosive and will help fill the void of Clive Georges in 2017. McKinney’s biggest question mark is whether he will be able to handle the mental side of the offense because he has all the speed needed to make a mark. I’m curious if he can impact the entire 2017 season or will he need time to develop into the offense similar to Demun Mercer a year ago. You can probably also throw new quarterback transfer Andrew Zimmerman into this mix. From what I’ve seen at practice, he’s still swimming in the offense a bit and the result is a few impressive plays followed by a few struggles. That’s to be expected.
- Who takes advantage of the injury situation at defensive back? About half of UND’s defensive backs are sitting out with what I would label as minor injuries, except for WR-turned-DB Tim Dulin who has been on crutches for a while. I don’t think we’ll see Cole Reyes, Jordan Canaday, Deion Harris, Tyus Carter … I’m probably missing someone. That means the remaining healthy bodies have received a ton of valuable reps. Who makes the most of those reps? It’s big for guys like Evan Holm, Chuck Flowers, Dre Randolph, Garrett Bollant and Vashon Tucker. Probably Torrey Hunt, too, but I think he’s been among the walking wounded from time to time, too.
- Will we see a shakeup on the offensive line? UND brings back its entire OL minus Michael Coe from 2016, but the group has been targeted by the coaching staff as an area needing to improve. They were okay last year, but that’s it. They need to be better for UND to take the next step. The current No. 1’s are from left to right A.J. Stockwell, Demon Taylor, Grant Aplin, Dan Bell and Bryce Blair. Not many of those guys should feel safe. The spring game is an opportunity for the staff and fans to get a look at those guys pushing the starters, minus Mat Cox who is still recovering from last season’s injury. Cox could push Blair to win that spot back at right tackle, especially if Blair can’t put on the right weight over the summer. Redshirt freshman Ryan Tobin is probably the biggest prospect to crack the lineup at guard, but Nathan Nguon in the interior of the OL has had his moments and Noah Mortel is still an intriguing prospect even if his progression probably targets more of a 2018 impact.
- Lastly, depth at tight end should be fun to watch. UND returns Luke Fiedler with experience, but he’s sitting out spring with an injury. Watch for Alex Cloyd, a guy who I gave a lot of fall camp attention to last season. Cloyd had his redshirt pulled last year but injuries and classic true freshman stuff kept him from being on fan radar. He has an NFL build, but he’s still working into it and getting comfortable. Logan Alm, who transitioned this spring from DL to TE, is also worth monitoring. He’s probably still molding into the different body type, but I think he’s a great candidate to be a swing guy in the UND offense at tight end and fullback/wing. The tight end crew needs to take advantage of this spring because there’s a chance true freshman Graham DeVore will push for playing time come fall camp.