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Jeff Kolpack, Published April 20 2012

Bison spring game comes with a few quirks

FARGO – Craig Bohl will get a chance to do his best Jon Gruden today during the North Dakota State Green vs. Gold spring football game. The head coach will be in the television booth in the second half.

“It will be much longer than the Craig Bohl Show,” he said.

Gruden is a former NFL coach turned analyst. Bohl will remain on the sideline after today’s game, which essentially pits the No. 1 offense vs. the No. 1 defense and the No. 2 offense vs. the No. 2 defense.

The first two quarters will be 12-minute periods and the second half will be played on running time. That will give Bohl less time in the booth in a spring game that is gaining in popularity.

“It’s taken on a new life of its own,” Bohl said, “as opposed to a glorified scrimmage.”

It won’t be a total game. Starting quarterback Brock Jensen will wear a red jersey and therefore be immune from contact. Most of the starting positions appear solidified but others are not.

Here are the top five position battles:

Running back. Sam Ojuri, with his 1,105 yards from last year, is the undisputed No. 1 back. But NDSU has always tried to rely on at least two guys. And this spring, freshman Matt Jones has shown some promise to be the top backup. And the top backup, in the case of Ojuri last year, can sometimes be the season rushing leader.

Jones has shown some good change in direction and has shown an ability to run between the tackles. Junior Derrick Lang is dependable, and that is never a bad thing in the backfield. Also, in the fall, NDSU is expecting 2010 recruit John Crockett and junior college transfer Deveon Dinwiddie.

Tight end. A valuable receiving position in the West Coast offense. Landon Smith had a fine senior season in 2010 and Matt Veldman saved his best for last in 2011. There’s no absence of candidates for next fall starting with senior Garrett Bruhn who averaged 13.2 yards on 11 receptions last year.

Junior Taylor Nelson has been in the program long enough to start contributing, and the coaches say junior Kevin Vaadeland is beginning to make big strides now that he’s healthy. Freshman Luke Albers caught a touchdown pass in the last scrimmage and freshman Derek Lee was a big recruit a year ago.

Quarterback. Jensen and the No. 1 offense could use a good performance after last Saturday’s so-so day. Sophomore Esley Thorton will have control of the other team now that freshman Carson Wentz most likely won’t play because of an ankle sprain. This could be a chance for Thorton to solidify his top backup status.

Wide receiver. The only proven performer is junior Ryan Smith. Somebody needs to be the breakout guy opposite Smith. The top candidates are Cooper Wahlo or Trevor Gebhart. It will be the first spring games for Andrew Okland and Nate Moody, a chance for them to shine.

If nobody surges forward, and this may happen anyway, then one of the incoming freshmen – DeSean Warren, Dee Gray and Carey Woods – will probably play right away.

Free safety. There are not many question marks on defense, but free safety will have a new starter – even if the players are not new to being on the field. Sophomore Christian Dudzik and junior Bryan Shepherd are locked in a tight battle to replace Danny Eaves and/or John Pike. Dudzik was solid at cornerback last year and Shepherd came on to provide valuable minutes.

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546. Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia

Spring game activities


9 a.m-4 p.m.: Tailgate lots open, no charge, first come, first serve spots 9 a.m.-3 p.m.: Sixth annual locker room sale, Fargodome.

10:30 a.m.-noon: Famous Dave’s BBQ scholarship benefit, $7, Fargodome

tailgating lot.

1 p.m.: Green vs. Gold spring game, no charge. First 3,000 fans receive

national championship poster.

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