The new-look Bison defense doesn’t have its veterans questioning whether or not they can bring the noise this season. By all accounts, Code Green is ready to make plays and remain a crowd favorite.
The Bison defense has been the most proficient piece of the Bison football team over the past four seasons. They’ve been able to replace senior leadership with young talent by combining inexperience with a ruthless Code Green attitude.
The Bison defense has been on top of the FCS rankings since 2011. They’ve only allowed 12.4 points and 271 yards per game during that 61 game stretch.
But with seven starters gone from last year’s starting lineup and six of its top eight tacklers out of eligibility, the Bison defense will face its greatest turnover in the past four years this season.
Linebacker Nick DeLuca, defensive end Brad Ambrosius and cornerback Tre Dempsey are the only returners with starting experience that are expected to replace three of the seven open spots left by the Bison seniors on defense.
The secondary is coming into fall camp hobbled with two-year starting cornerback CJ Smith coming off knee surgery this spring.
“I met with the doctor a few days ago and he said it’s looking as good as he possibly could hope for,” Smith said. “I probably won’t be in fall camp right away, but eventually I’ll get there and start doing some more running and back peddling.”
The senior’s injury means that fellow senior Jordan Champion will be joined by sophomore Tre Dempsey at corner to begin the season, but don’t get too comfortable seeing the Lakeland, Fla. native there for long.
Dempsey’s lone career start was at corner, but he will be making the Christian Dudzik-like switch to free safety once Smith is back from his injury. In the meantime, there will be a position battle for the strong and free safety positions between four safeties: junior Andrew Smith, sophomore Chris Board and freshmen Isaac Cenescar and Jaylaan Wimbush.
“There’s kind of a big position battle at the other spot,” Smith said about the construction of the secondary once Dempsey makes the move to free safety. “It’s really who shows that they learned the playbook the fastest and improves during fall camp.”
[image type=”none” float=”none” info=”none” info_place=”top” info_trigger=”hover” src=”3724″ alt=”Nick DeLuca Jordan Champion North Dakota State University Bison football” link=”true”]
After Travis Beck fell to an Achilles injury during the regular season finale, DeLuca stepped in at middle linebacker and made four impactful starts in the playoffs. He will return to the middle for his junior season.
The Bison will need to replace two outside linebackers with position battles that will be fought through the first month of the season. It appears juniors Pierre Gee-Tucker and MJ Stumpf are the early favorites to join the athletic DeLuca in the linebacking core. But Dan Marlette, Levi Jordheim, Bo Liekhus and Matt Plank showed flashes in the Spring Game and they could be the answer at the outside spot.
As a highly touted recruit from Belleville, Ill., Gee-Tucker had his first two seasons at NDSU cut short by injury. He contributed most of his playing time on special teams and was able to haul in his first interception of his career against Incarnate Word.
Stumpf has drawn many comparisons to other North Dakota grown linebackers at NDSU. The Harvey native had a spectacular career in high school and has been able to find his way onto the field for 28 games at NDSU, but mostly in special teams roles.[/text_output]
[image type=”none” float=”none” info=”none” info_place=”top” info_trigger=”hover” src=”3726″ alt=”Brad Ambrosius North Dakota State University Bison football defensive line” link=”true”]
Brad Ambrosius filled in for five games last year when defensive end Mike Hardie was out with a groin injury. Like DeLuca, Ambrosius made his presence felt and will be a mainstay in the defensive end rotation this season.
“I’m getting a lot stronger in the weight room,” Ambrosius said. “I’ve also been working on my pass rush, which obviously, we have to replace Kyle Emanuel with almost 20 sacks by himself. So I’ve been working on that and just trying to work on my footwork and technique.”
Replacing 22.5 sacks from Emanuel and Hardie won’t come from just one or two players. Joining Ambrosius at the other defensive end will be Greg Menard, who played as a true freshman last season and gathered three sacks in a backup role. Sophomore Jarrod Tuszka and redshirt freshmen Stanley Jones and Caleb Butler figure to get in the defensive end rotation early in the season, too.
The Bison defense will introduce many new faces to the FargoDome crowd this year, but that’s no excuse for continuing the strong Code Green tradition, said Smith.
“The same thing happened to the class that was before me (2010 Class),” Smith explained. “A lot of those guys played early and they were still good. So I mean, it’s just a matter of these guys having to know that they don’t have time to think, ‘Oh, I have four years. I’ll wait a couple years.’ They have to come and have the mindset that ‘Okay, we have to speed this up. We have to do this right now.’”
Smith, Champion and defensive tackle Brian Schaetz are the only projected starters on the Bison defense that have been here since 2011 when NDSU won its first of four consecutive FCS Championship game. And they don’t plan on being the guys that end the streak of success in Frisco, Texas.[/text_output]