On defense, UND returns a strong corps of experienced talent between the 2019 season and this 2021 spring campaign.
One major area, however, the Fighting Hawks will need to address is at inside linebacker, where Donnell Rodgers is now gone.
Rodgers made 126 tackles last season and was picked to two All-American teams.
As the Hawks turn the page at inside linebacker, UND’s 3-4 defense is fortunate to have plenty of experience returning at one of the inside linebacker spots in Noah Larson, who has started all 23 games in his first two seasons.
“Noah’s played a lot of football for us,” UND first-year defensive coordinator Brett Holinka said. “He’s got a lot of reps in him but still has to develop in terms of the finer details. But as far as a kid who can physically do it, he’s a guy we’ll have to lean on. He’s got to perform at a high level for us.”
After Larson, UND has two players pushing to start in place of Rodgers in redshirt sophomore Caden White and the St. Cloud State transfer, junior Devon Krzanowski.
White, from Sun Prairie, Wis., saw action in 11 games for UND last year and made 17 tackles. Krzanowski came to UND after St. Cloud State cut its football program. Krzanowski led the Huskies in tackles in 2019.
“Caden has put in the time and continued to develop,” Holinka said. “He’ll play a lot for us. Devon is what we thought he would be — a good football player. He’ll provide depth for us. He’ll push those other guys competitively. They’ve done a good job with him at St. Cloud State. He’s a quality addition to our inside linebacker room.”
Holinka is also pleased with the development of redshirt junior Hayden Reynolds, a West Fargo native and former all-state pick from West Fargo Sheyenne. Reynolds has played mostly special teams his first two seasons of action.
“After fall ball and 15 practices, we said this kid got better,” Holinka said.
Senior Jake Rastas, another candidate to play inside linebacker, has provided strong leadership, Holinka said. Rastas led the team in tackles in 2017 after injuries hit that position group. He’s played mostly a special teams role the following two seasons.
“He’s the ring leader of that room and does a great job of being a mentor and keeping that room in order and keeping that tradition,” said Holinka, who played inside linebacker at UND.
Three young inside linebackers — Wyatt Pedigo, Jack Ihry and Kasen Kelley — will be vying to see time on special teams.
“You never know how this spring might go, so you have to be ready when your number is called,” Holinka said.
Here are the details from Day 4:
The scene: UND practiced in helmets and shoulder pads Monday morning from about 7:30 a.m. to 9:10 a.m., ending with one session of team drills.
Participation note: Safety Jordan Canady remains out, as do cornerbacks Sam Robertson and Haley Bucholz. Defensive end Steven Keech also didn’t participate Monday.
Play of the day: There were both cheers and concerns on the big play Monday, as Brock Boltmann hit on a deep ball to transfer wide receiver Jake Richter, who made the grab but landed awkwardly on the ball as he had to sprawl out to make the catch. Two trainers came out to check on Richter, who eventually jogged off with a smile.
Looking good: Sophomore cornerback Caleb Nelson continued his impressive spring as he broke up a Reid Neal slant pass intended for Tyler Burian during wide receiver-defensive back work.
Needs work: Pass catching from the running backs. UND worked extensively on passes to running backs Monday, which produced mixed results from the running backs. One such play was intercepted by UND safety Connor Wilcoxen.
Day 4 notes
- Two of UND’s best went head-to-head early in practice when Garett Maag went up high to make a catch on a deep ball over cornerback C.J. Siegel, whose had a strong showing in camp.
- On the first pass attempt of team drills, No. 1 quarterback Tommy Schuster was under heavy pressure and was intercepted by safety Kadon Kauppinen, who has been receiving the No. 1 safety reps while Jordan Canady recovers from what appears to be a minor injury.
- Rookie wide receiver Bo Belquist had a nice gain on a fly sweep during team drills.
- Boltmann was in on a lot of action Monday, as he took a fly sweep on one play and would have been hit hard by defensive end Quintin Seguin if it weren’t for contact rules during practice. Moments later, though, Boltmann was at quarterback and his quick bubble screen to Mikey Griebel would have been a big gainer.
- UND worked on punt block and punt protection before team drills.
- During team drills, inside linebacker Caden White picked up an Isaiah Smith fumble and scored.
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