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Jeff Kolpack, Published August 27 2012

NDSU loses offensive lineman to injury

FARGO – North Dakota State began game-week preparations for Robert Morris University (Pa.) on Monday with a team that survived fall camp as healthy as can be expected. That didn’t ease the burden of losing offensive tackle Jeff Jerve, however.

Once a starter in spring football of 2011, Jerve’s brief career came to an end with a series of knee ailments that never did get better. Head coach Craig Bohl said doctors advised Jerve to give up the game.

“The knee just did not respond like we hoped,” Bohl said. “There was too much pain and doctors felt it wise for him not to pursue football anymore.”

Jerve had microfracture surgery after injuring it in spring football a year ago. He did not play last year to rehabilitate it and sat out last spring for the same reason.

But a good summer of workouts had Bison coaches optimistic he would return to the lineup at a right tackle spot vacated by senior and All-American Paul Cornick. Jerve practiced for a while, but had a procedure done to his knee that was expected to get him back on the field before Saturday’s home opener.

“He’s a guy we had hopes for at the right tackle spot,” Bohl said.

To bolster the depth up front, Bohl said freshman Zack Johnson will not redshirt and play right away. The 6-foot-5, 324-pound Johnson, from Apple Valley, Minn., is the backup to left guard Josh Colville – a redshirt freshman who will play his first college game.

Johnson is the only member of the 2012 recruiting class to lose his redshirt.

“We’re pleased with Zack’s progress,” Bohl said. “He’s a big, physical guy who is becoming confident at offensive guard.”

Bohl, however, called two new starters in the offensive line “a real concern” along with new starters at punter and kicker in Ben LeCompte and Adam Keller.

“You can try and replicate as many things as you can,” he said, “but in both of those cases, until they have to perform, you’re not going to know. I’m confident but also anxious in how those guys will respond.”

Starting receiver Ryan Smith, out with a hamstring injury, has returned to practice and will start against the Colonials. Also, sophomore Esley Thorton – who switched to linebacker last week after losing a spot on the quarterback depth chart to No. 3 – will remain as a backup quarterback for now.

Thorton is listed as the backup to starter Carlton Littlejohn. It’s uncertain how much Thorton will play against RMU.

“We would like to get him in so he can see what it’s like,” Bohl said.

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546.

Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found

at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia

Kolpack is the host of the WDAY Golf Show Saturdays from 8-9 a.m. on 970-AM.