Halfway through August, it’s business as usual for Bison football

FARGO — Looking for a couple of backup linebackers and checking out the true freshmen to see if they can immediately play at a top NCAA Division I FCS level. That’s about where North Dakota State is at with the “fall camp” version of August practice winding up Monday, Aug. 20.

From a breaking news standpoint, not much has happened. For Bison fans, a no-news-is-good-news stance can be taken as a positive.

School starts Tuesday meaning the opponent for the Sept. 1 opener at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome, Cal Poly, comes more into focus. Bison head coach Chris Klieman said he’s been pleased with both the offensive and defensive lines, which is a good start for any football team.

“There are certain areas where we need to continue to improve in finding some depth, especially at linebacker,” Klieman said. “That’s an area that’s still a little thin.”

The starters are established in senior Dan Marlette in the middle and senior Levi Jordheim and sophomore Jabril Cox on the outside. Redshirt freshman Jackson Hankey from Park River, Minn., is the top choice to back up Marlette, but Hankey’s been battling groin and hamstring injuries.

“If we can keep him healthy and get him back to 100 percent, I think he can help us inside,” Klieman said.

Junior Jaxon Brown, a converted free safety, is making strides at outside linebacker, Klieman said.

“More likely as we get into the season, he’ll help us,” Klieman said.

So far, only receiver Christian Watson and outside linebacker Aaron Mercadel are questionable for the Cal Poly game. Watson has a sprained ankle and Mercadel a knee injury.

With Watson sidelined, that could potentially open a door for a true freshman receiver like Phoenix Sproles from New Hope, Minn. A new NCAA rule will allow a true freshman to play up to four games without losing his redshirt.

“When we came in, the coaches told us freshmen to come in and play like you want to earn a spot,” Sproles said. “So I’m doing my best every day to try and get better.”

Besides Sproles, Klieman said safeties Jasir Cox from Kansas City, Mo., and James Kaczor from St. Cloud, Minn., have a chance to play as true freshmen, with both most likely on special teams.

“There are days where I say, yeah, these three or four (players can play now) and there are days where I say, nah, I don’t know if they’re ready,” Klieman said. “One thing I know is … we’re working on their skill set. No question we’re going to play a number of freshmen.”

Klieman said there has been no resolution with the No. 2 quarterback competition, behind starter Easton Stick, between redshirt freshmen Noah Sanders and Holden Hotchkiss.