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Three things to watch as NDSU opens fall camp

The Bison have a couple position battles that will be decided over the next month.

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North Dakota State's Cam Miller hands off to Kobe Johnson to carry against East Tennessee during their NCAA FCS quarterfinal football playoff game Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021, in Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
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North Dakota State officially begins the 2022 football season Thursday morning when the Bison take the practice field at Dacotah Field.

NDSU opens the year September 3rd against Drake and between now and then, head coach Matt Entz has some decisions to make to get his team ready to open defense of its national championship.

Here are three things for fans to watch as fall camp develops:

1) LINEBACKER WATCH - The Bison will have two new starters at linebacker this fall, with the departures of Jackson Hankey and Jasir Cox. The question now is who will fill those spots?

Cole Wisniewski is the answer to one of those spots. The junior had a great sophomore season, getting spot starts when James Kaczor was out of the lineup. Wisniewski finished fifth on the team in tackles, but he will not practice during fall camp, recovering from an Achilles injury suffered during winter workouts. His return is questionable for the non-conference schedule.

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With Wisniewski out, look for Hillsboro's Oscar Benson to get more reps during the fall and converted safety Julian Wlodarczyk. Wlodarczyk is a senior and at 6-3, 207 pounds could be exactly what Cox was, a former safety turned linebacker.

The middle linebacker spot is the other position to be filled and two players are vying for that spot.

Nick Kubitz and Luke Weerts are primed to take over there. Weerts is a fourth year senior, who missed a majority of last season with a back injury. He practiced during the spring, but with the white jersey on, which means no contact. Entz says Weerts is full go for the fall.

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North Dakota State running back TaMerik Williams battles linebacker Luke Weerts during Bison football practice on Monday, Aug. 9, 2021. David Samson / The Forum

Kubitz has been a special teams wiz, he thrived in that role last year. Kubitz had a great spring camp, earning more reps and has moved himself into a potential starting spot.

Redshirt freshman Logan Kopp has earned plenty of praise from the coaching staff and is another to watch as the next month rolls on.

2) WHO'S THE GO TO GUY ON THE OUTSIDE?

Christian Watson is in the middle of training camp with the Green Bay Packers and the question now is who becomes the deep threat for the Bison offense?

There is NO replacing Watson, but NDSU has several candidates that appear ready for a larger role.

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Phoenix Sproles returns for a fifth year, and after a disappointing 2021 appears ready to end his collegiate career with a flourish.

There are several younger receivers that are worth watching; DJ Hart, Chris Harris and Bryce Lance. Hart is the only one with a collegiate catch, while Harris and Lance each showed great strides during the spring.

Raja Nelson, Braylon Henderson and Zach Mathis have all made plays, but have just two combined touchdowns among the three of them. Someone is going to need to become the playmaker this season.

3) FINDING A KICKER

It may not be the most glamorous thing to watch or talk about, but it's one of the most important.

Jake Reinholz has moved on after a really solid career but leaves NDSU with a position battle this fall.

Redshirt junior Griffin Crosa returns to the roster, he was the main kicker on the roster as a true freshman in 2019 when Reinholz was hurt. He had a couple of kicks in 2020, and then didn't play at all last year. Despite his experience, it's no lock that Crosa is the guy.

True freshman Drew Klein was brought in and has a legit chance at winning the job. Think back to 2015 when Cam Pedersen arrived on campus and in the second game of the year became NDSU's kicker. Klien is a highly regarded kicker, who was a five-star recruit coming out of high school.

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There will be a new long snapper in the process as well, as Caleb Bowers is a freshman on the roster.

NDSU's special teams have been amazing thru its dynasty, led by kickers Ryan Jastram, Adam Keller, Pedersen and Reinholz. It's a huge position to watch this fall.

OTHER STORYLINES

Cole Payton is one that can't be ignored.

Payton now weighs in at 230 pounds to go with his 6-3 frame. With Quincy Patterson's departure, Payton now moves into the number two role behind Cam Miller.

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North Dakota State's Cole Payton turns to hand off to T.K. Marshall against Valparaiso during their football game Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, in the Fargodome. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

With a great spring, Payton now will have a package developed for him. We'll see how he is used thru fall camp and how quickly the top recruit continues to catch on.

The true and redshirt freshmen is always worth watching. From wide receiver with Mekhi Collins and Carson Hegerle to Barika Kpeenu at running back, each of those are players that with a good fall camp, we could see them contributing.

NDSU is scheduled to be at Dacotah Field for the first couple of practices before heading to its new outdoor practice field.

Dom Izzo is the Sports Director at WDAY-TV. He began working for WDAY in 2006 as the weekend sports anchor and was promoted to Sports Director in 2010.
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