GRAND FORKS, N.D. - With all due respect to Ross Brenneman (Omaha, Neb.), Devin Benjamin (Minneapolis, Minn.) and Jay Nelson (Wheaton, Minn.), the senior trio on the defensive line has gone relatively unnoticed by the UND coaching staff this spring.
"We know what those three guys can do," UND head coach Chris Mussman said. "Our priority on the defensive line is finding three or four guys behind them that are ready to play in the Big Sky. We know those other three are."
Fortunately, the cupboard behind those three — a group that combined for more than 75 tackles and 14 sacks a year ago — is not bare for defensive coordinator Mike Mannausau. Sophomore Ben Henson (Buffalo, Minn.), who has missed the first handful of practices this spring, did play in 11 games as Benjamin's reserve last season.
Junior Seth Stanchik (Hudson, Wis.) has been mentioned by Mussman early on as someone who has caught his eye. Stanchik appears to be fully-recovered from an injury suffered midway through the 2010 season.
Henson's classmate Spencer Cummings (Hugo, Minn.) also played in 11 games and recorded four tackles for a loss in a reserve role. Another sophomore Dwayne Pecosky (Commerce City, Colo.) played on both sides of the ball last season, but has been working primarily at defensive end this spring.
"Those three starters along with Henson and Cummings make up our nucleus, so we are looking for two more guys to step up and be ready to play," Mannausau said. "We'd like to have seven guys that we can rotate in and out during a game."
Veteran Caleb Nelson (Forman, N.D.) is also vying for a spot in the rotation at defensive end this spring, as is newcomer E.J. Welch (Biwabik, Minn.). Welch was a JUCO All-American selection at Mesabi Range Community College last season.
Plus, a trio of redshirt freshmen are also in the mix. Aaron Hartung (Hudson, Wis.), Kyle Woodsmall (Wildwood, Mo.) and Marcus Laverdure (Belcourt, N.D.) have gotten some extensive work this spring to show what they can.
The real test will come on Saturday when the team scrimmages for the first time at 10:45 a.m. "Tomorrow is when we really take a close look at setting our two-deep and figuring out who can help us," Mussman said.
Here is a breakdown of the 12 defensive lineman in spring practices.
45 Jay Nelson, Sr. (DE) - 23 tackles, 10.5 TFLs, 4 sacks
55 Dwayne Pecosky, So. (DE) - 1 TFL
90 Devin Benjamin , Sr. (NG) - 23 tackles, 2 TFLs, 1.5 sacks
91 Spencer Cummings, So. (DE) - 8 tackles, 4 TFLs
96 Aaron Hartung, RFr. (DE) - Redshirted
97 Kyle Woodsmall, RFr., (DE) - Redshirted
98 Ross Brenneman, Sr. (DE) - 32 tackles, 10 TFLs, 8.5 sacks
99 Marcus Laverdure, RFr. (NG) - Redshirted
Practice Notes: On the eve of the first scrimmage, head coach Chris Mussman said he was pleased with the tempo and give-and-take during the sixth practice of the spring ... The wind rivaled the gusts from the spring opener last week, but the temperatures were warmer throughout the two-hour session ... The strong winds did not deter the quarterbacks from getting a lot of work in on the passing game ... Junior Joey Bradley (Issaquah, Wash.) and senior Braden Hanson (Charlotte, N.C.) both had some highlights and lowlights during the drills ... Bradley connected on a nice deep ball to Greg Hardin (Bellevue, Neb.) during skelly drills and also found Blair Townsend (Coon Rapids, Minn.) for a diving, 16-yard score on the first play of 11-on-11 redzone work ... Hanson's highlight pass came at the close of practice in third-down situational work when he connected on a perfectly thrown strike to R.J. McGill (Phoenix, Ariz.) on a go route ... Both quarterbacks also threw interceptions as Garrison Goodman (San Ramon, Calif.) picked off the first pass Bradley threw in 11-on-11 work and Erik Mersereau (Port Washington, Wis.) intercepted Hanson's first pass in red zone work ... Mussman said the team will go through about 70 plays in Saturday's first scrimmage with live punting and point-after-attempts and field goals to be worked in as well ... He added the team would be on the field 10:45 a.m. no matter what the weather was doing ... Forecasts call for cooler temperatures and the winds are expected back, but not to be nearly as strong.