Sioux football: UND opens spring practice, Will turn its focus to offense
GRAND FORKS - After his freshman season, University of North Dakota running back Mitch Sutton was ready for a break. He led the Fighting Sioux with 149 rushes for 689 yards and six touchdowns. But 67 of those carries came in UND's final four game...
GRAND FORKS - After his freshman season, University of North Dakota running back Mitch Sutton was ready for a break.
He led the Fighting Sioux with 149 rushes for 689 yards and six touchdowns. But 67 of those carries came in UND's final four games - a stretch in which Sutton became the Sioux go-to back.
"After you carry the ball 30 or so times, it hurts a little bit," Sutton said. "So, over the winter I put on 10 pounds. I'm more cushioned to take some more hits."
The grind for Sutton, now 210 pounds, and his teammates began Monday at Memorial Stadium, where UND opened its spring season in surprisingly good weather conditions for late March.
The spring focus will be on the Sioux offense. Depth at the running back position is one area of concern.
But UND opened spring drills with Sutton and Josh Murray both taking reps. Murray led UND in rushing in 2008 with 1,146 yards and 12 touchdowns but sat out last season for academic reasons.
If he is eligible for the 2010 season, the Sioux could have a formidable 1-2 punch at running back.
"Josh still has to continue to progress," UND coach Chris Mussman said. "He still has a long way to go."
More depth at the running back spot, however, should help Sutton, the Great West Conference freshman of the year.
"The one thing we'd like to do is take a few touches off his plate," Mussman said. "Instead of 25 to 30 carries, we'd like to give him 15 to 20 so he's more effective in those 15 to 20 carries. Josh Murray plays into that (scenario). And we have some kids coming into the program in the next year that can help."
For the most part, UND's first practice of the spring season was typical. But there was one exception.
UND's offense went to a no-huddle look in an effort to generate more plays during a game.
The players seemed to enjoy the new wrinkle.
"It'll be interesting," Sutton said. "I like where it's going. We'll control the tempo and that's what I like about it."
Mussman said the change could benefit both sides of the ball.
"The protocol of the no-huddle didn't seem to rattle any of our guys," Mussman said. "It seemed pretty natural on both sides of the ball. And it does make the defense communicate a little more.
"We weren't perfect with it and still have work to do," the coach said. "But I did like the tempo of the practice."
UND's first scrimmage of the spring season likely will occur early next week.
Wayne Nelson is the sports editor for the Grand Forks Herald, a Forum Communications Co. newspaper