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UND's defensive line sets the tone

The UND football team's defensive line has plenty of experience and talent, so defensive line coach Jordan Gigli wants to see leadership now, too. Gigli has asked his veteran crew to set the tone at spring ball, where UND is in its final week of ...

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University of North Dakota linebacker Jade Lawrence (2) and defensive lineman Drew Greely (43) tackle Southern Utah wide receiver Raysean Pringle (85) at the end zone during the first half at SaturdayÕs game at Alerus Center in Grand Forks, N.D. (Jesse Trelstad/Grand Forks Herald)

The UND football team's defensive line has plenty of experience and talent, so defensive line coach Jordan Gigli wants to see leadership now, too.

Gigli has asked his veteran crew to set the tone at spring ball, where UND is in its final week of spring practices at the High Performance Center.

UND will hold its annual Spring Game at 5 p.m. Friday at the HPC.

"I've put it on our guys to bring the energy," Gigli said. "With all the changes we've had at linebacker ... you have eight guys behind you watching. I've been happy with the leadership roles our guys have taken on."

At defensive end, UND returns Drew Greely and Brandon Dranka-who will both be four-year regulars in 2017. At nose guard, junior Tank Harris has developed into one of the top run stoppers in the Big Sky Conference.

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"We're taking it on ourselves to bring the energy and lead by example," said Greely, who led UND with four sacks last year. "The biggest thing with spring is working on the small things to become great. It's easy to go from bad to good but it's hard to go from good to great. We're fine-tuning things we've done in the past to become a great defensive line."

UND's defensive line lost two members from the 2016 rotation in seniors Alec Carrothers and Noah Johnson.

Johnson was one of UND's top pass rushers (team-high five quarterback hurries) and led the position group in tackles with 30. In order to replace Johnson, UND is looking to Canadian sophomores Carter Wilson (12 tackles, 4.0 tackles for loss, 1 sack) and Mason Bennett (17 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks).

"We're counting on them to up their productivity," Gigli said. "They both have the tools athletically to rush the passer and that's what we need."

Gigli said UND is also hoping to see Carl Engwall mix into the rotation more next season. The 6-foot-4, 265-pound sophomore from Lakeville, Minn., battled injuries a year ago and wasn't able to crack the lineup.

Austin Cieslak, a Hazen, N.D., native, will also see playing time on the line, although the 6-4, 290-pound junior is sitting out spring ball due to an injury.

At nose guard, UND needs to develop depth behind Harris. Sophomore Steve Greer and senior Nick Schmitz are the leading candidates, although both players were nursing injuries at practice this week.

Despite the Fighting Hawks' experienced defensive line, UND is expecting four new incoming freshmen in the fall to compete for playing time, as well.

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In the 2017 recruiting class, UND signed Zeke Ott of Caledonia, Minn., Jalen Morrison of Woodbury, Minn., Nick Honerlaw of South Milwaukee, Wis., and Quintin Seguin of Windsor, Ont.

Ott was considered UND's most highly regarded recruit in the signing class.

Miller has covered sports at the Grand Forks Herald since 2004 and was the state sportswriter of the year in 2019.

His primary beat is UND football but also reports on a variety of UND sports and local preps.

He can be reached at (701) 780-1121, tmiller@gfherald.com or on Twitter at @tommillergf.
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