NDSU's Jones up for the challenge; Illies out four weeks
FARGO—Gate City Bank Field was nearly empty late Wednesday morning, Aug. 9, except for some defensive players getting extra work in the southeast corner. You could make a case it's the direct result of Greg Menard going down last week.
North Dakota State University's standout defensive end is out for the season with a torn ACL. Replacing his status isn't a problem numerically, but finding it from the production side will probably be a work in progress for a while.
In this case, a few outside linebackers were getting some instruction on the finer details of the game at the line of scrimmage.
"Building these guys up and building their confidence," said Bison defensive line coach Buddha Williams.
Confidence shouldn't be an issue for junior Stanley Jones, who is expected to start in place of Menard at the right defensive end spot. Menard, who will redshirt and can use another year of eligibility, is on track to challenge for the school record for quarterback sacks.
"It sucks when a player gets hurt," Jones said. "You know how much it means to Greg, how much the season means to Greg and how much the team means to him. But everybody has to get better and we're going to do that."
Jones was noticeably better at the tail end of last season. He had three tackles for lost yardage and a quarterback sack in the regular season finale at the University of South Dakota.
"Getting those reps really helped," Jones said.
It's been a slow but steady process for Jones in seeing the field after being named the North Dakota USA Today Defensive Player of the Year at Bismarck High. He left as the state's all-time quarterback sacks leader.
The college game was a different world for him, also.
"In high school I just ran around and did whatever I wanted," Jones said. "Now I understand an offense. I understand the defense and it helps because I can help the younger guys, too."
As to which younger guys will play at the defensive end spots on opening day Saturday, Sept. 2, against Mississippi Valley State appears to be undetermined. Junior Caleb Butler is on track as one starter. Senior Jarrod Tuszka and sophomore Derrek Tuszka are certain to play.
"We're all chasing each other," Jones said. "There are no starters right now."
That could be the case at tight end, also, with senior Jeff Illies out about four weeks with a strained MCL in his knee, said head coach Chris Klieman. It's possible Illies may also have a minor scope surgery to clean up some cartilage damage.
If his rehabilitation time holds true, he would be iffy for the Mississippi Valley game but would be on target for the Saturday, Sept. 9, showdown at Eastern Washington. By then, Williams may have a better handle on his defensive end rotation, also.
"Part of my job as a coach is coaching everyone," he said. "We have a great group of guys who are willing to learn and they're great players."