Photo By J. Alan Paul Photography
At the start of fall camp, the North Dakota State defensive ends were asked plenty of questions regarding the depth and talent at their position. A week and half later, the questions changed.
Senior leader and All-American Greg Menard suffered a season-ending ACL tear in his right knee during a routine drill. This came days after being named to the Buck Buchanan Award watch list as the best defensive player in the FCS.
“We lose his senior leadership in our defensive end room,” defensive coordinator Matt Entz said. “He’s a three-year starter now. He’s played against some really good football players. His experience is going to be lost. But then again, his ability to change a game. He can get after offensive tackles. He’s a playmaker. That’s what we’re losing.”
Now those original questions about the defensive end depth become even more relevant.
Who’s going to step up and make up for Menard’s double-digit sacks and tackles for loss performances the last two seasons?
Three upperclassmen who immediately are looked on to increase their snaps and production are senior Jarrod Tuszka and juniors Stanley Jones and Caleb Butler. Sophomore Derrek Tuszka will also be in the mix along with some possible freshmen.
Entz even threw out the names of linebackers Levi Jordheim, Dan Marlette and Jabril Cox as coming off the edge.
“It’s tough losing an All-American,” Jarrod Tuszka said. “But I think our room has great depth, a lot of guys with experience and a lot of guys that can play reps. As far as practice, I don’t think we’ve really broken stride. Yeah, we’re missing him, but we’re bringing the young guys up.”
“Even when Greg was here, coach Buddha (Williams) preached to get better at one thing every day and we need to bring our game up,” he added. “We want to be the best d-line in the nation and we still have plenty of capability to do that.”
6-3, 255 pounds
Career stats: 29 tackles, 3.5 TFLs, 2 sacks
6-3, 245 pounds
Career stats: 31 tackles, 10.5 TFLs, 3.5 sacks
6-3, 244 pounds
Career stats: 36 tackles, 11 TFLs, 6.5 sacks
TALKING TO THE D-ENDS
Q: Having a deep position group like you guys do, how much competition does that bring out of everyone?
Jarrod Tuszka: “It definitely does and competition is a good thing. Once we get going into the season, we’re going to need that. We have another tough year. We got 21 seniors so there’s plenty of competition in general. But our group, we’ll have a lot of guys rotating in and playing a ton. We’re going to throw fresh guys at everybody and wear people down.”
Stanley Jones: “It does. It’s pretty sweet because usually, individuals is something where you work techniques. Buddha has us over there firing off, seeing who has the fastest get-off and who can compete the most. It’s nice to have that in our group.”
Caleb Butler: “We’re always competitive. It doesn’t matter how many people are there or if it’s just you. But with more people there, they help you see what you did wrong and encourage you to do better. They also praise you when you do good. It’s an all-around good learning environment.”
Q: With talent and veterans all over the defense, does that free you guys up a little bit in passing situations?
JT: “It really does. Our defensive tackles are really deep, too.
We have a bunch of experienced guys who can get penetration there and that frees us up. Then our linebackers are a bunch of studs. We’re going to have a really strong defense this year, I think.”
SJ: “It just helps the whole team out. With a good secondary and linebackers, we can make some plays to help them out. It’s just good to have that where we all help each other out.”
CB: “I’d say it would. With coach Buddha, he just emphasizes our get-off and getting after the quarterback. Not saying anything bad about our secondary, but if they’re bad or if they’re good, it wouldn’t matter because of our new coaches’ coaching style.”