2019 Dragons 🏈
Coming off their third winning season of the last four years and the best record to end the year going back more than a decade, the Dragons seem to have hit their stride as a program. I wrote last Summer that I thought the 2017 season could be more reality then fiction but the team came back with the Mineral Water Bowl season. On top of that, they have a lot of the key pieces returning for this fall. So I was very wrong and couldn't have been much more okay with it! I will try to be closer to right this time around.
But there are also some questions that will need to be answered this year.
The first and most important question to answer may not even be a question. Bryce Meehl vacated the starting quarterback job but in his stead, Jakup Sinani may have already earned the job by his play in 2018. Trent Ricker appeared in one less game last season but only threw for three yards all year so I'd be really surprised if there was any sort of controversy at the position this season.
To aid the offense, Moorhead State has three of their top four runners returning to the backfield. Each of Denver Colgrove, Ty Jochim & Herman Grey tallied totals in the mid 300's behind the departed Zach Simons. Three 500 yard rushers would be a great way to keep everybody fresh and could allow for some wrinkle's to be rolled out against some of the better opponents that they'll face this year. With the loss of the offense's best individual performer, those backs may be leaned upon more heavily than they would have been otherwise.
Speaking of the injured receiver, for the second time in three years, Jake Richter suffered a left leg injury that by all accounts will cost him the entire season. In his stead, the passing game will look to Ryan Harvey-Turner & Carter Blackwell as subs for the Detroit Lakes native. As younger players with limited production to their credit, they may start the year as red zone targets and expand from there. Then again, they very well could make the sort of jump that Richter made. The Dragons did already go from Damon Gibson to Richter so mayb lighting can strike again! Beyond the big bodied guys, Zach Sweep & Grady Bresnahan will have the duty of being the examples to their many younger teammates. As the second & third most productive receivers coming back, it's an interesting combination of players.
But the whole thing could fall apart before it even starts if the offensive line can't take care of their part. There are plenty of options from which to assemble a good five with rotational guys to help them catch their breathes. 11 of the 15 returning linemen are either freshmen or sophomores so to say it's a group that's light on experience is spot on. If the wall can come through, giving time to Sinani and opening holes for the runner of the play then it will be the best evidence of all to the quality of the coaching.
So that's the offense but the other side of the ball will have plenty of questions to answer as well.
Starting with the front line of the defense. there are a few upperclassmen that will have to lead the way for many new faces on the unit. The most productive of their ranks from a year ago is Darius Woods-Steichen who will be coming back for his junior year, looking to improve on his 8.5 sacks. He may be the face of the group but the battery of quarterback harassers extend well beyond the Mahnomen native so the only real question they will have to answer is how the rotational pass rushers will do when pressed into action.
There is some need for them to work effectively because of the youth of the players directly to their rear. With only two non-freshman on the roster, neither of whom will be fourth years at the linebacker position, I think it is the most glaring question mark on the entire roster. If former Bison Carlton Littlejohn can have that bunch ready to not be a total liability a couple weeks into the season then he'll be earning himself his next promotion. If the LB's can be a genuine benefit to the other 8 or 9 guy's on the field then he should get a call from the new head man in Fargo whenever the need arises. There are ways to scheme around one weakness, possibly through the use of hybrid defensive backs who have years of experience to lean on during games. At this stage though, the Linebacking looms as a possible liability.
In stark contrast to the backers, the DB's are deep this year. Headlined by Deiondre Taylor, the back end of the defense has the ceiling of being a no fly zone. Even if they aren't able to accomplish that lofty of goals, they should be very tough to throw against on an every week basis.
So the defense's dominance will come down to those couple of guys in the middle. The blend of experience and youth all over the defense will have to come together for them to achieve another milestone type season and make no mistake, the possibility is there for the taking.
I initially thought that last year's success would eliminate the possibility of them being able to sneak up on anyone but the subsequent preseason poll has me thinking otherwise. The NSIC coaches voted them into seventh on the list of teams with a predicted third best finish in the North division.
The first two weeks of the season very well may speak volumes about how the totality of the 11 game schedule will turn out. In week one they travel to Crookston to face the perennially unimpressive Golden Eagles but a week later will host Minnesota Duluth coming off an 11-1 record with their only loss coming in the D2 playoff. It's a bar so low that I'm not sure an ant could find it's way beneath it but doing better than the 60-7 loss that MSU experienced against the Bulldogs in 2018 is objective number 1. Well, that and dominating Crookston. The way they perform in those two will give an indication of whether they'll be about to outdo those middling predictions.
In short, if they put it all together I think an 8-3 record is achievable but a 7-4 season, which I'm going with as my official prediction, wouldn't be anything to sneeze at & would continue their rise on the national landscape for division 2.
So there you go. What do you think though?