We’re six days away from the first early signing period (Dec. 20). I was hoping to get these position breakdowns done before the signing period, but it doesn’t look like that’ll happen. I’ll be able to add some more thoughts to the positions once I talk to coaches at the event, but we’ll continue here anyway.
I’m going to look at the tight ends and fullbacks in this post, and it’s a position that doesn’t receive a ton of media love but is very important in UND’s scheme, especially with the amount of tight ends the team likes to play with as a run-first offense.
UND wasn’t as good at this position as it needed to be in 2017, and we’ll look at the reasons for that and whether you can expect a bounce back in 2018.
One of the initial concerns was the availability of junior Luke Fiedler in 2017. He battled injuries last year (who didn’t?), playing in eight games but not really being 100 percent for quite a few of those games.
UND missed Fiedler’s physicality. He plays with a bit of a nasty edge that has been absent at times of late. UND’s young, promising tight ends in Alex Cloyd and Hunter Pinke showed signs of being reliable players but still have some growing to do. I’ve always been high on Cloyd’s potential just based on his frame and athleticism, but we haven’t seen it consistently enough. Perhaps as he becomes an upperclassman, we see Cloyd become a bigger factor.
Cloyd caught eight balls for 147 yards and a touchdown last year, while Pinke came on late in the year and caught three passes for 54 yards and a score. I like Pinke’s potential, too, as a North Dakota kid with great UND bloodlines. It’s always important for it to mean something for a kid to play at UND.
In 2018, UND is expected to return Fiedler, Cloyd and Pinke and that’s a good place to start. However, I think there’s a group of tight ends that will push these three for playing time.
UND might have played true freshman Graham DeVore a year ago because he was physically close to what UND wants a tight end to play at in terms of weight, but he came in with an arm injury and missed too many valuable reps in fall camp to be ready to go.
DeVore should push for playing time, as well as Montana transfer Ben Hardy, who is a wildcard who joined the team later in fall camp. Hardy was last listed on a Montana roster in 2016 at 6-foot-6, 225 pounds, but I have to believe he’s bigger than that. He has the look of a tight end that could push people around, although that’s admittedly difficult to determine when you’re on the scout team.
UND also traveled tight ends Logan Alm and Derek Paulson often. These walk-on tight ends are getting closer to the right body type to play at this level. Alm has some additional value as a long snapper. He impressed me during fall camp, but I think he still has some developing to do. It’s a position he’s never really played before as a transitioning defensive lineman.
UND’s expected to add two tight ends during the early signing period in Ryan Schoenfelder of Goodhue, Minn., and Donny Ventrelli of St. Paul.
At fullback, UND has a big question mark after losing Kyle Norberg for nearly the entire 2017 season, a year that started with coaches talking about Norberg as one of the best at the position for some time.
Not only was Norberg banged up, but UND played a good chunk of the year without backup Tyler Coyne. That meant a lot of the fullback play was left for young walk-on Brett Finke. UND even tried some unique things at fullback with offensive lineman Bryce Blair, who wore two different jerseys in order to be eligible. If Blair continues to struggle to put on weight, we could see him have a position change here, perhaps.
Heading into 2018, Finke might be the starter to open things. Coyne has been hurt quite a bit in his career, and I don’t believe Norberg will receive an extra year of eligibility. Also, local walk-on Andrew Jones has left the team, I believe.
UND had a fullback commit out of Wisconsin for the 2018 recruiting class in John Chenal, who has since decided to commit to his in-state Wisconsin Badgers.
Another interesting aspect to keep in mind at fullback is the staff typically likes to have a fullback that is a position-change player (like linebacker or running back) and/or a non-scholarshipplayer.
That means there could be some in-house candidates that we don’t know about yet until spring ball begins.
UND needs to find tight ends and fullbacks that move people around like Zach Adler did a few years ago. Hopefully, I’ll be able to add some thoughts from position coach Shawn Kostich after signing day. Kostich is always very insightful to chat with on signing day.