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Spring game today for Bison

North Dakota State University head football coach Chris Klieman watches the plays during the NDSU Bison scrimmage on April 12 at Dacotah Field. Dave Wallis / Forum News Service

FARGO — He was anointed the 30th head football coach at North Dakota State in December, but Chris Klieman really didn’t start calling the shots on the field until March 29. That was the first day of spring football.

The 15th and final practice is today in the form of the annual Spring Game at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome. It’s not so much a green team vs. a gold team anymore because injuries and holding veteran players out from contact has significantly cut into the depth.

The game will use a points system that pits the offense vs. the defense. In a change from his three previous years at NDSU when he was a defensive coach, Klieman has focused more on the offense this spring.

For starters, he wanted to see how apparent No. 1 quarterback Carson Wentz operated the offense.

“I spent more time in and around the huddle just to see Carson’s leadership,” Klieman said. “I wanted to see how we called the plays, things that I’ve never done here. That’s just been more of my focus.”

That won’t always be the case, Klieman said, saying once fall camp rolls around he’ll split his time between the offense, defense and special teams.

Today, meanwhile, will be a big day for a few players looking to lock down starting positions and several players looking to crack the depth chart like freshman strong safety Chris Board.

“He’s developing, but is he developing to the point of being a special-teams guy or somebody who will be able to get (starter Colten Heagle) out for a series or two?” Klieman said.

There’s a battle on who will back up Wentz between sophomore Derek McGinnis and freshman Cole Davis. Klieman said that will most likely go into fall.

At least seven starters on defense will either not play or see limited action. On offense, running back John Crockett will be held out leaving most of the ball carrying duties to junior Darius Anderson and sophomores Chase Morlock and Melvin DeSouza. Starting receivers Zach Vraa and Trevor Gebhart will either not play or see very few plays.

That leaves both lines of scrimmages as the major focus.

“There’s going to be a lot of who’s the third D-end?” Klieman said. “Who’s the third D-tackle? Who are the sixth and seventh offensive linemen? That’s where I think the big battles are.”

The offensive line is looking to replace three starters with right tackle Landon Lechler, right guard Jack Plankers and center Jesse Hinz having the inside track at those starting jobs.

On defense, the Bison lost four interior linemen, leaving just nose guard Brian Schaetz as the only player with experience. Freshman Nate Tanguay is the heir apparent at defensive tackle, but freshman nose guard Austin Farnlof and freshman tackle Grant Morgan are also in the mix.

“It will be a big evaluation for us on the offensive line and defensive line,” Klieman said.

He also pointed to a corps of young linebackers as players that will be in the spotlight. Starting linebackers Carlton Littlejohn and Travis Beck are sidelined with injuries. Esley Thorton is the only returning starter who will play. But there is a heated battle for backup spots with sophomores Nick DeLuca, M.J. Stumpf, Bo Liekhus and Pierre Gee-Tucker and freshmen Matt Plank, Mike Goergen and James Gates.

Jeff Kolpack
Jeff Kolpack covers North Dakota State athletics, the Fargo Marathon and golf for The Forum. His blog can be accessed at www.bisonmedia.areavoices.com. On the radio, Kolpack & Izzo sports talk show runs from 9-11 a.m. every Saturday morning. April through August, the WDAY Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack runs from 8-9 a.m.
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