The Herald's takeaways from the UND football scrimmage
We've reached the midway point of UND football camp, and the Fighting Hawks marked the milestone with a scrimmage this morning at Memorial Stadium.
A decent, little crowd of about 50 was on hand to watch the 50-play scrimmage on a comfortable, sunny August day in Grand Forks.
I wrote about the defense owning the offense here, but I thought I'd provide some further thoughts of my own on how things went.
First, as pointed out in the main story on the scrimmage, let's remember the offense didn't have the services of John Santiago, Brady Oliveira, James Johannesson, Noah Wanzek and Travis Toivonen. Those top skill players sat out to make sure they didn't get hurt. Perhaps it wasn't a great surprise then that the offense struggled as much as it did.
The scrimmage started with some promise for the offense. Nate Ketteringham, who appears to have pulled into the lead for the starting quarterback job, hit on a couple of nice throws. He threw a wheel route to freshman running back Otis Weah, who had to jump over the defender to bring in the pass. Then, he hit walk-on wide receiver Easton Erbes on an out route.
Just a few plays later, though, Ketteringham had a ball tipped by defensive end Mason Bennett. The deflection found outside linebacker Jaxson Turner, who returned the interception for a touchdown and then dunked the ball into the Ball Hawk garbage can.
All four quarterbacks struggled at times with the constant defensive pressure, which raises the biggest question of the day: Should fans be concerned about the offensive line?
It's a valid worry at this point.
UND has a base of knowledge and expects strong years from four of the five starting offensive lineman. Left tackle Noah Mortel, left guard Ryan Tobin, center Patric Rooney and right guard Grant Aplin have played enough meaningful snaps to be counted on in the 2018 season.
How the Fighting Hawks round out that starting lineup and how the team develops depth remains a big issue. Nathan Nguon would probably be your starter at right tackle in Week 1 if he were healthy. But Nguon just recently began doing individual work on the sideline following a spring ball injury. He almost certainly won't be ready for Week 1.
That means UND has some youthful competition at right tackle. The likely options include Bennett Helgren, who has done the most work with the No. 1 unit, as well as Sean Russo and even true freshman Matt Waletzko. Even beyond who wins that job, UND needs someone to step up along the offensive line right now.
But, enough ragging on the offensive line. There were some positives to see at Memorial today. Of course, if the offensive line was getting beat, the defensive line was having a day. Mason Bennett and Austin Cieslak, as well as backups Zeke Ott and Steve Greer made some notable plays in the backfield. Bennett and Greer have both packed on some weight in the offseason. I think Bennett could have a big year and even have a look at pro football.
At outside linebacker, Turner's pick six was just another example of his stellar camp. He's moved into a starting role outside and could have a breakout season. We've seen flashes of Turner's ability (has a fantastic high school highlight film, too), but last season he was both injured at times and also spent fall camp at safety where the staff was experimenting with him in the defensive backfield.
Turner, Tanner Palmborg, Jade Lawrence and former running back Austin Gordon are a good starting place for the outside backers.
Inside, I've written quite a bit this fall about the team's revamped middle. During the scrimmage, some of the depth there had extended looks. Tyron Vrede, a junior college transfer from the Netherlands, had the best hit of the day when he smacked Otis Weah on a run up the middle. Vrede will be in the mix inside. Noah Larson and Donnell Rodgers will get the most snaps but Vrede, Cam Hunt and Ev Williams (Minnesota Gophers transfer) will play plenty, too. The staff also likes Hayden Reynolds out of West Fargo Sheyenne inside. I wouldn't be surprised if Reynolds works his way into a role as the season moves along and injuries undoubtedly arise.
Three defensive backs stood out to me at the scrimmage (keep in mind the typical starters didn't play much). I saw impressive things from safety Chavildo Van Ommeren, the other Netherlands addition. At 6-foot-2, Van Ommeren moves really well and we saw some of his physicality for the first time in the scrimmage. Cornerbacks Jacob Odom and Terrell Jennings did some nice things, too. Odom is a true freshman and Jennings is a junior college transfer but has three years left to play. They've had good falls, often pair together and sometimes are tough to tell apart because they both practice in No. 26. If Odom stops wearing bright-colored bracelets, we're going to need a new trick to differentiate.
UND sprinkled in some special teams at the scrimmage, as well. They're an untested unit, with true freshmen likely starting at punter, kicker and long snapper. True freshman Cade Peterson had the slightly better day than graduate transfer punter Warren Taylor. True freshman kicker Brady Leach didn't have a good day, missing both of his field-goal attempts. That came as a bit of a surprise, as the Moorhead graduate has hit it well in camp.
Perhaps the most effective quarterback was fourth-string transfer Noah Grover, who was also facing many of the UND defenders buried on the depth chart. Grover hit Erbes on the longest pass play of the day when he was rolling right and coverage broke down to allow Erbes behind the secondary.
Erbes is still a longshot to be a primary weapon, but he's impressively continued to turn heads by making plays in practice. He'd be a fun walk-on success story if he can carve out a role.
Grover's other big completion was actually called back on a motion call, but he hit true freshman Grand Forks Red River product Tyler Burian on a wide receiver bubble screen that would have gone for an 18-yard touchdown catch.
In perhaps the best news of the scrimmage for the UND staff and fans, it appeared there were no new injuries.
Two weeks of fall camp remain now as the Hawks prepare for the season opener Aug. 30 against Mississippi Valley State at the Alerus Center.