Grand Forks, N.D. -- The North Dakota football team began its final week of spring practices Monday morning by completing the 13th of 15 on-field sessions permitted by the NCAA. By most accounts, it was one of the most spirited sessions of the spring as the intensity was apparent, especially up front between the offensive and defensive lines.
"I liked the energy, but both sides need to be more consistent at this point of spring practice," head coach Bubba Schweigert said. "We have to be improving at this point of the spring. We have another chance to do that on Wednesday and we need to take advantage of it."
One of the areas that Schweigert wants to see that consistency the most is in the communication by his defense. Fortunately, that is why teams get 15 practices during the spring and these sessions have been especially important for the inside linebacker position, which is going through a major overhaul.
Utilizing The Right Pieces
With the graduation of your team's top tackler (Dylan Bakker, 98) and the unexpected, but understandable retirement of your third-leading tackler (Connor O'Brien, 67), defensive coordinator Eric Schmidt knew immediately which player on his roster that would be an ideal candidate to fill some of the void those two players left at inside linebacker: Jake Disterhaupt.
"Jake knows football and he's played enough reps for us over the last three years, so we felt like he could make this shift and impact our defense right away," Schmidt said. "He already has a pretty good feel for the position and what his responsibilites are going to be.
"He's a guy that we knew could make the shift inside because he's tough enough and physical enough to play in there. He's a guy that we can use at a number of different positions. He's played multiple positions for us since he has been here, so he's our main utility guy and we trust him to come in and do a good job for us."
Disterhaupt's career at UND has seen him play wide receiver, safety, outside linebacker and now inside linebacker and all of this came after he was a Minnesota Mr. Football Award Finalist after rushing for nearly 4,000 yards as a prep running back for Moose Lake-Willow River High School.
As for making another shift this late in his career, Disterhaupt says he is up for the challenge. "I love the sport, so every time I can learn something new, it's fun," he said.
The biggest challenge he is facing has been acclimating to the different run fits that he did not have to handle at outside linebacker where he played in 35 straight games over the past three seasons.
"The coverages are not that different from what I experienced at outside linebacker. It's really been adjusting to the run fits, reading the guards and knowing your keys. It's not like you have a set gap like you did at outside linebacker," he added. "At that position, they are either running at you or away from you, so that's pretty easy.
"At inside, you have to understand that you are so close to the center that they could run at you directlly or from the other side of the tackle and you still have to be in the right spot."
Disterhaupt is not the only newcomer to the position. In fact, sophomore Donnell Rodgers is the ony player in the meeting room that has game experience at insider linebacker. He made 38 tackles and posted three sacks in a reserve role last season.
Redshirt freshman Jake Geier and senior Oscar Nevermann are also making the transition to inside linebacker and having been working with the two's for a majority of the practices. For Geier, the switch just moved him closer to the line of scrimmage after playing safety for the scout team during his first fall as a collegian.
As for Nevermann, playing linebacker is not completely foreign for the native of Sweden. He arrived at Wyoming in the fall of 2013 prepared to play linebacker, but a shortage of running backs after fall camp made the Cowboys' coaching staff shift him to the offensive side of the ball.
"So far it is going really well. Coach Schmidt is a really smart guy and has given me good guidance," Nevermann, who also played safety while prepping in Sweden, said.
The biggest challenge for him has been learning to keep his pads low. "Keeping leverage, that's been the tough one, especially now with being on the other side and being the one that has to make the tackle," he said.
With O'Brien now on the sidelines helping out his teammates, Nevermann has been able to lean on him for guidance along with former middle linebacker Will Ratelle, who has remained in Grand Forks to train for his upcoming practices with his new NFL team the Kansas City Chiefs.
"Both of them have given me a pretty good guideline (on how to play middle linebacker)," Nevermann said. "I think it's going well so far, but we still have a lot of work to do."
The quartet of Disterhaupt, Rodgers, Nevermann and Geier are all trying to make the most of the spring and the opportunities that present themselves during this short period of time they are allowed on the field. Their willingness to adapt along with the remainder of the inside linebackers on the roster has not been lost on Schmidt.
"I appreciate all our guys and their effort to try and learn the position," he said. "They are getting in here extra and I see the 'want-to' from each of them. There just needs to be more consistency and the communication aspect has to improve.
"There's a lot of competion and a lot of learning going on right now with that group. We just have to keep throwing them out there and getting as many reps as possible."
Only one full practice remains before Friday night's Spring Game scheduled for a 5 p.m. start at the High Performance Center ... The offense spent some time working on scenarios with the ball backed up deep in their own side of the field ... Sophomore Torrey Hunt came up with an interception during skelly work after making a nice break on an out route thrown by Brad Heidlebaugh ... Junior Mike Thingstad also came up with an interception during team work towards the end of practice.
If there is one position that has remained consistent from last season in terms of personnel and not having a lot of new faces to work with is the defensive line. Grand Forks Herald reporter Tom Miller caught up with defensive line coach Jordan Gigli and senior defensive end Drew Greely after practice to see how their spring practices have been coming along. The MidcoSN crew caught up with offensive coordiantor Paul Rudolph, Minnesota transfer James Johannesson and offensive tackle A.J. Stockwell after pracitce to get an update on the offensive side of the ball.
-- UND --