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NDSU moves Thorton to LB as Wentz named No. 2 QB

FARGO -- It was a race that for all practical purposes was a photo finish. The battle for the No. 2 quarterback position at North Dakota State ended when Esley Thorton was moved to defense over the weekend.

The top recruit out of North Dakota in 2010 will be an outside linebacker when the Bison open their season in two weeks against Robert Morris University (Pa.). It means freshman Carson Wentz will be the primary backup to starting quarterback Brock Jensen.

The switch was made in a meeting in head coach Craig Bohl's office after Wentz got the No. 2 nod. Bohl said Thorton took the news well and asked to try another position to get on the field.

"They gave me a fair evaluation like everyone else," Thorton said. "That's football. That's competition, so I have to make a change."

It was an educational practice on Monday for Thorton, who spent a lot of time with linebackers coach Steve Stanard and veteran players. He was asking, and getting advice, on virtually every play.

"If I had to switch to quarterback, I know he would be there helping me out," said starting middle linebacker Grant Olson. "Anytime you change positions, it's tough. You get recruited for something and then end up playing somewhere else but he's coming in with a good attitude and we appreciate that a lot."

Thorton and Wentz had been battling for the backup spot since last spring football. Thorton played sparingly in six games last season as a redshirt freshman completing 6 of 10 passes for 66 yards.

Wentz redshirted last fall and his progress last spring was limited because of an ankle injury. But he's impressed the Bison coaches since he arrived in Fargo with his strong arm, ability to read defenses and his athletic 6-foot-5 frame.

"Esley is a great competitor and he and I knew it would come down to this fall camp," Wentz said. "It's just how it played out."

Thorton was no slouch, either, pushing Jensen for the starting nod in the spring of 2011. He showed a good arm and at 6-3 and 207 pounds, is big enough to play in most positions on the field.

True freshman Derek McGinnis from Crete, Neb., is the No. 3 quarterback, a position that usually means he'll travel on road trips but play only in an emergency situation. Bohl said he's satisfied with the depth at quarterback, which allowed Thorton to move to linebacker.

As to where Thorton will fit on the linebacker depth chart is uncertain. Carlton Littlejohn is the starter at his position with senior Bobby Ollman getting the backup repetitions on Monday.

Thorton will also play on special teams, something that backup quarterbacks never do.

"As any defensive player knows, it's a different mindset, so I have to change gears," Thorton said. "I won't be trying to avoid people, but trying to get after people. It will be a transition but I'll try to make it as quick as possible."