GRAND FORKS, N.D. - The best thing to come of having two starters along the offensive front spectating more than practicing this spring has been the extra repetitions received by the younger members of North Dakota's offensive line.
The two veterans on the sidelines this spring are senior guard Emmett Lynch (Winstead, Minn.) and junior guard Joe Kleason (Eagan, Minn.), who have both played plenty of football during their careers.
But, as their head coach and position coach was quick to point out - that has been both good and bad.
"It's good because you are getting younger guys more reps than they probably would normally," Mussman said. "But, there is also frustration because you are putting younger guys (who aren't necessarily ready) in there with (the second unit). It's been good give-and-take though. I like how we've progressed."
Lynch and Kleason are two-thirds on an interior portion of the line that has three-year starter Ian McGurran (Fargo, N.D.) manning the middle. McGurran has been healthy all spring and a nice veteran influence for the younger players around him.
One of those younger players getting reps at both center and guard is sophomore Shea Walker (St. Paul, Minn.), who was pressed into some duty as a redshirt freshman in 2011.
"The hard part going into spring ball with those two guys out is instead of replacing one starter you are replacing three," Mussman said. "Shea is getting a lot of reps at both center and guard because of that, which is good for us for a lot of reasons. He is quick. He's not the tallest guy, but he's quick and can get to the second level and pulls really well.
"And, Ian McGurran. No one has played more football in this program right now than Ian McGurran. He is very solid with his calls."
The one position the Sioux are going to have to replace for sure in the fall is right tackle where Connor McKendry manned that post a season ago. So four of the five starters will be back from a unit that allowed the fewest sacks among Great West teams a season ago. The Hogs also helped the ground attack churn out 19 rushing touchdowns, which was second among GWC teams.
Back at left tackle will be junior Darren Deneui (Chancellor, S.D.). He started all 11 games there a season ago.
"Darren has had an up and down spring partially because our edge rush guys are so good and Caleb Gillson (Buyck, Minn.) has got a ton of reps at the right tackle spot, so he'll battle for that as we go into fall camp."
The depth along the offensive front is developing and has some pieces in place. There are five redshirts along the offensive front, but one is emerging as a player that could crack the rotation in the fall and this Brandon Anderson (Sartell, Minn.). "I think Brandon has made the most progress of that bunch," Mussman said. "He is more game ready than the rest of the guys. Each one of those (redshirts) are going to have a chance to contribute though."
Those remaining four include Jace Hellman (Grand Forks, N.D.), who is expected to provide depth at center; Ross Windfeldt (St. Cloud, Minn.), who is working at right tackle; Sean Meehan (Trevor, Wis.), who is working at guard and Luke Hoplin (Grand Forks, N.D.), who is working at left tackle.
Mussman said fall camp will be big for all the redshirts to really see if they will be ready to contribute when the team enters Big Sky play in 2012.
Here is a breakdown of the 14 offensive lineman on the spring roster:
Offensive Linemen (2011 notes)
54 Ian McGurran, Sr., C - Three-year starter
60 Jace Hellman, RFr., C - Redshirted
62 Joe Kleason, Jr., G - Started all 11 games at left guard (injured this spring)
63 Sean Meehan, RFr., G - Redshirted
67 Shea Walker, So., C/G - Appeared in all 11 games as a reserve offensive lineman
68 Caleb Gillson, Sr., T - Started the final five games of the season at right guard
70 Ross Windfeldt, RFr., T - Redshirted
71 Brandon Anderson, RFr., G - Redshirted
72 Luke Hoplin, RFr., T - Redshirted
73 Darren Peterson, So., T - Appeared in the Black Hills State game
74 Devin Barton, So., T - Appeared in the Black Hills State game
76 Darren Deneui, Jr., T - Started all 11 games at left tackle
78 Emmett Lynch, Sr., G - Made six starts at right guard before suffering season-ending injury
79 Jake Hoerchner, Jr., G - Made seven appearances as a reserve lineman
Practice Notes: The team moved indoors to the Alerus Center for the first time this spring and of course the weather outside was as nice as it has been in over a week ... The session was only 16 periods long as the Green and White are only three days away from the annual Spring Game (Saturday at 3 p.m.) ... The one-on-one work between the wide receivers and defensive backs was entertaining as usual ... Redshirt freshman Jameer Jackson (Brooklyn Park, Minn.) and sophomore Daryl Brown (Plymouth, Minn.) were waged in some serious battles ... Redshirt freshman Pat Brown (North Pole, Alaska) continued his strong spring, making a fully-extended diving catch, which drew some praise from defensive back Chavon Mackey (Jacksonville, Fla.) ... Junior Greg Hardin (Bellevue, Neb.) made his presence felt in skelly work with a nice one-handed grab ... Sophomore William James (Sweden) made sure the defensive backs were well represented, picking off a pass on the sidelines after making a nice break on the route ... The session concluded with a 10-minute live session that was a contest between the third-team offense and the third-team defense ... The goal for the offense was to get two first downs before the defense got two three-and-outs ... After falling behind on the first series, the offense responded to gain two first downs to bring the players in the green jerseys into a frenzy ... The punishment was the entire defense had to pick up all the equipment used inside the Alerus Center for the practice ... Head coach Chris Mussman made sure the unit did not forget after the players made their way to the lockerroom.