South Dakota State Uses Spring Ball to Assess 2015 Personnel
There has never been a better gridiron run at South Dakota State than the stretch the Jackrabbits are in the midst of now with three straight Division I post season appearances, and opening round victories in each of those seasons.
If the 2015 Jacks are going to continue that string of success, they're going to have to do it with some new faces in some key positions. On the offensive side of the ball, three of the best ever to don a SDSU uniform have moved on - running back Zach Zenner, quarterback Austin Sumner, and wide receiver Jason Schneider. The battles to fill those opening were the main story lines of 2015 spring practice.
I talked to SDSU head coach John Stiegelemier this week about what transpired this spring in Brookings. Among the things he told me:
- Having access to the Jackrabbits new indoor practice facility made this the most structured spring ball ever. SDSU practiced inside every day, and even played the spring game inside. In years past, spring weather was a major disruption to the workout schedule.
- At quarterback, with projected starter Zach Lujan limited with injuries this spring, Chris Little, Dalton Douglas, and Tyler Finnes took the majority of the snaps. Stiegelmeier says all three had their good days and their bad days.
- At running back, returning players Brady Mengarelli and Reggie Gandy has solid spring camps with Kyle Paris and Isaac Wallace contributing as well. Stiegelmeier says he does not envision running back by committee, rather matching each individual players' skill set for the situation at hand.
- As for the guys catching the football, Stiegelmeier says this could be the most talented group of tight ends the program has ever had with Cam Jones, Dallas Goedert, and Mitch Vejvoda. At receiver, Jake Wieneke and Trevor Wesley are proven contributors, but Stieglemeier says more depth is needed.
- The offensive line is a work in progress with a lack of experience, especially on the right side. Center Jacob Ohnesorge had a breakthrough freshman season in 2015, while Bryce Siverliong (tackle) Dylan Seiter (guard) anchor the left side of the line.
- Defensively, no worries up front with Cole Langer and Shayne Gottlob back inside. Outside, J.R. Plote had a nice spring, but the other end spot is wide open for a team that struggled getting to opposing quarterbacks last season.
- The linebacking corps is solid with returners T.J. Lally, Drew Kreutzfeldt, and J.T. Hassell.
- At defensive back, the cornerback spot has veterans Je Ryan Butler and Trey Carr returning. Stiegelmeier says the search continues for a second safety to go with Nick Mears.
- At kicker, a couple of players not in spring camp, freshmen Chase Vinatieri and Brady Hale will compete for the spot when they arrive in Brookings this summer.
The Jackrabbits open the 2015 season at Kansas, Saturday, September 5, 2015.
Listen to my complete interview with coach Stiegelmeier: