Winning the battle in the trenches: Dickinson State addresses concerns to bolster its talent, depth at line of scrimmage in offseason
Every coach — including Dickinson State’s first-year head coach Pete Stanton — wants to win the battle at the line of scrimmage.
But for the past two years, DSU has struggled in the trenches due to injuries and lack of depth.
During the offseason, Stanton’s mission was to improve the depth up front — both offensively and defensively — and brought in a slew of newcomers and transfers to help the returners.
“That was the root of some of the issues last year, offensively we averaged 11 first downs a game, which was the bottom of the nation, and defensively we were the bottom of the nation getting off the field,” Stanton said. “Those are two glaring things we need to take care of and I think that starts up front and getting better up front.”
DSU returns two starting linemen senior Meyer Bohn and junior Lane Millay who agreed last season was difficult to endure. The Blue Hawks also return sophomores Curran Irvine and Adrian Phillips, who were injured.
The line suffered some hard-hitting injuries — former guard Nick Yelton battled through torn ligaments in each knee all season — but fought through adversity every game. Bohn had minor setbacks which took him out of a few plays and Millay had a high ankle sprain and turf toe.
“Depth is going to be a big thing for us,” Bohn said. “If we can have some solid guys behind the starters that are able to roll in and take reps in games, I think a lot of the problem last year was you got five guys playing every play and chances are you’re probably going to get banged up. That’s the game.”
The potential depth has been delivered as promised, with 11 players on the offensive side. While not all of them will find a spot on the two-deep chart, the current players vying for a position consist of returners, transfers and new recruits.
Just the presence of new teammates has boosted the confidence and positivity among the returners.
“It was very very difficult and very tough to keep our spirits up, but this offseason has helped bring all that back,” Millay said. “These guys that are coming in want to play and you can tell they’re ready to play. It lifts you back up and brings that mentality and want to keep playing back.”
Along with new linemen comes a new assistant coach. DSU welcomed Jeff Miller as its new offensive line coach in June, who brings 15 years of coaching experience to the team.
Miller coached at an array of universities including Mayville State and, most recently, Minot State. He has a goal to get DSU’s front line back to its traditional, physical self.
“The big thing is everybody going to the right guy and going there as fast as you can,” he said. “When I think of Dickinson in my experience of coaching against them at a couple of different spots I’ve been at, I always think big, punishing, physical offensive and defensive line. We’re just trying to rekindle that traditional and get back to what we are doing.”
While it’s still early in preseason to pin down definite starters, there have been linemen catching coaches’ eyes. Miller said both Bohn and Millay have been consistent and Phillips, who redshirtted last season and still has nagging injuries, has been performing despite his adversity.
One of the bigger transfers DSU saw for the offensive line was Kelii Copp from Mt. San Antonio College (Calif.). Copp was an all-conference center at his two-year college and has seen ample time at the position during practices, but can also play guard.
After two years of depth trouble, versatility among the linemen is a must and something Stanton and his assistants have been pushing in order to be successful this season.
“Kelli was an all-conference center but he also played guard,” Stanton said. “Meyer played center for us last year and has been playing guard ... “That versatility and depth is going to help us.”