Bison junior Mason Miller (so far) the heir apparent to Volson at right tackle
With so many veterans returning on the NDSU offensive line, Ada's Mason Miller not taking the job for granted
FARGO — The starting right tackle position for the North Dakota State football team looks to be headed Mason Miller’s way. The junior from Ada, Minn., has been working with the No. 1 unit since practice began almost two weeks ago.
But talk to Miller about job security and it’s as if there isn’t a whole lot. That’s the state of the Bison offensive line, which returns nine of its top 10 players from a year ago. Translation: The starters would do well not to slack.
“They’ll play the best 11, it doesn't matter if you’re a new guy or a guy who has been here for six years,” Miller said. “It’s really fun to see that competition throughout the entire program.”
As of Monday, anyway, it’s Miller who looks to be on target to replace the one departed member of the line in Cordell Volson. The fourth-round draft pick of the Cincinnati Bengals, Volson has been getting some good early reviews in his first NFL camp.
In Fargo, however, Cordell is no longer there.
“Cordell was a tremendous player, he helped me out more than words can ever describe,” Miller said. “He’s almost like a big brother to me. But it’s time for guys like myself, Jake Rock or Hunter Poncius to step up and make our own legacy here. Cordell is gone. Cordell is not coming back so it’s time for us to make our name here.”
The 6-foot-6, 296-pound Miller played in all 15 games a year ago. He started on the field goal and extra-points special teams unit.
It remains to be seen how deep the Bison will go on the offensive line this season, with offensive line coach Dan Larson saying the nine returning players are all in the mix. Moreover, NDSU has not been shy about rotating players at different positions.
For instance, senior center Jalen Sundell has played guard in practice, which would put junior Brandon Westberg as the starting center. All-American left tackle Cody Mauch has played some at guard, while guard Grey Zabel has seen some plays this month at tackle. Miller has played a bit at left tackle, also.
“From our standpoint we’re still trying to challenge those guys at certain spots and we’re trying to create depth,” Larson said. “We may have nine guys returning but can we create more depth by those guys playing multiple positions?”
Last year, the Bison mostly rotated between six and seven players.
“We have nine guys coming back with experience in our playbook who have played,” Larson said. “But we want nine guys who are reaching the expectations that we’re looking for. We have nine guys who we believe know the playbook and know what it’s like to play.”
Seniors Nash Jensen and Jake Kubas are the returning starting guards at the left and right side respectively. Miller calls it more of a “security blanket” to have options up front with the versatile Volson being gone.
“We have guys with the mentality that Cordell played with,” Larson said. “Cordell had a confidence that was off the charts on every single play.”
It’s that type of confidence that NDSU has hopes with Miller.
“Mason is a guy we’re going to have to rely on,” Larson said. “He’s jumped in and played a lot of big games so far in his two years here and we have high expectations for him. He’s got high expectations for himself and he’ll be as good as he wants to be.”