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Defensive line an early strength for UND
As a freshman defensive lineman two seasons ago, North Dakota’s Ross Brenneman was in awe when he entered Jones AT&T Stadium – home of the Texas Tech Red Raiders.
“I remember coming out and thinking, ‘Oh man, what’s going to happen,’” Brenneman said. “Everyone on that Texas Tech team was so huge and so quick.”
But times have changed for Brenneman and the rest of the Sioux defensive line – a unit that has matured physically and mentally as UND nears the end of its Division I transition.
The days of awe have been replaced by the days of reality.
One season away from its highly anticipated move to the Big Sky Conference, UND’s defensive line – with only one senior – figures to be one of team’s strengths early this season.
It already has some confidence.
“Now, when we come to the line of scrimmage, it’s like, ‘OK, offense you’d better be ready because we’re going to bring everything we’ve got,” Brenneman said Monday during UND’s annual media day. “The big thing now is that we’re getting to the point where we realize we can do this.”
UND’s three-man defensive line doesn’t have a name, but there is great potential for a moniker as all three down linemen have their last name begin with the letter B – Brenneman, Devin Benjamin and Broc Bellmore.
The group is as good as any that has played at UND in years, Sioux coach Chris Mussman said.
“We’ve played in the Great West Conference and we’ve played some FBS programs and those guys could play for anybody we’ve lined up against,” Mussman said. “These guys are as good as we’ve had in a long time.”
It’s a physical group, too, as Brenneman is a 6-foot-4, 266-pounder while Bellmore is 6-1, 270 and Benjamin – the nose guard – is 6-3, 303.
“This is a position you lean on a little bit (early in the season),” Mussman added.
A lack of depth, however, may be the line’s big concern.
“My biggest concern will be the No. 5 and 6 guys,” Mussman said.
Jay Nelson also figures to play extensively on the line. The players in the mix to back up Brenneman, Bellmore, Benjamin and Nelson are Ben Henson, Spencer Cummings and Ekenna Anya-Gafu.
Last season, with yet another B (Ty Boyle) on the defensive line, the Sioux allowed opponents 3.9 yards per rush.
This season, UND’s last in the Great West, Brenneman said the line wants to make things happen on its own.
“Versus the run, we’re stout,” Brenneman said. “But we need to be able to bring the heat on third down. We don’t’ want to have to rely on the blitz. That’s our goal. We want to create sacks on our own.”
Brenneman and Bellmore both finished with 35 tackles last season. Both said they couldn’t wait for the start of fall camp, which helps ease the memory of last year’s 3-8 record.
“It was tough last year,” Bellmore said. “The record didn’t show how tough it was. Three or four games, we were right there. It was one play here or one play there. That’s all we needed. But that gives us the fire for this year.”
By: Wayne Nelson, Grand Forks Herald