Dakota Wesleyan University’s quarterback battle has been cut in half.
The Tigers have narrowed their decision to Mitchell native and true freshman Kiel Nelson and Zachary Lester, with Jordan Etter running the third team and Anthony De La Torre moving to wide receiver.
During Thursday’s practice, which put a heavy focus on red-zone situations, Nelson and Lester took turns taking snaps with the first and second units. While both struggled with overthrows, they also flashed the mobility which landed them in this position.
“What they do for our offense, the things they bring to the table athletically,” DWU coach Ross Cimpl said when asked what stood out about the two. “Being able to make the throws, being able to potentially have a quarterback run game, I think both of those guys are capable of doing that.”
Neither quarterback was scared to move outside of the pocket, which will be needed playing behind a young offensive line. Although, Nelson was more willing to use his legs to try to gain positive yardage. Still, Cimpl isn’t planning on calling more quarterback runs.
With DWU’s fall scrimmage at 6 p.m. Thursday at its practice field -- and its season opener at Dakota State University on Aug. 29 -- the Tigers are closing in on a final decision heading into their final full week of practice.
“There’s other (scenarios) we still need to evaluate based on our practice setup,” Cimpl said. “Hopefully by the scrimmage, but if it comes down to the scrimmage being the deciding factor, we’re OK with that too.”
One spot up for grabs in the secondary
Comfortability is key for the Tigers’ secondary. Whether that’s with pre-snap reads or in DWU’s new defensive scheme installed last season, which put an emphasis on defending run-pass options instead of zone reads.
“I think last year toward the end of the season, we saw that group play a lot better and being comfortable with their scheme,” Cimpl said. “We had a new defense and obviously it took time for us to acclimate ourselves and get comfortable with what we’re doing and what we’re seeing.”
However, finding the right pieces is also important for a defense which allowed 264.2 passing yards per game and a 60.6 completion percentage last season. And while it returns safety and Mitchell native Mitch Johnson -- who ranked fourth in tackles (59) and intercepted two passes -- and cornerback Brandon Slama, the Tigers have two starting spots to fill.
Menno’s Jackson Diede will occupy the other safety position, though true freshman Hunter Cordell and Nate Rupprecht are vying for the final cornerback starting spot. Rupprecht played sparingly in seven games in 2018.
Filling the tight end void
Chamberlain native Parker Evans played in all 11 games last season, though his main role being a blocker is evidenced by his two catches for 23 yards. Kyreice Miller provided the Tigers with a pass-catching tight end as he finished with 14 catches for 169 yards and looked increasingly more confident week-by-week.
Miller didn’t return to the team this season, though. Therefore, while Evans is in line to compete for playing time again, true freshman Cooper Caskey and Matt Schwaerzler could also see the field.
“The physical part is something they’re continuing to work on, blocking bigger and faster guys,” Cimpl said. “Being able to know what they’re doing that’s the starting point. Now it comes down to having some aggression, making sure we’re able to get our hands on guys and not lose ground.”
Caskey wrapped up his prep career with 68 receptions for 756 yards, which ranked ninth in Norfolk (Neb.) High School history. Schwaerzler was recruited as a fullback, though the Tigers interchange the tight end position with tight ends, fullbacks and receivers.
Notes: Mitchell native Carter Max and former Bridgewater-Emery/Ethan standout Carter Dye opted to not go out for the team. … Right tackle Dawson Grotjohn is not back with the team. With the entire offensive line needing to be replaced, there are seven linemen working at numerous positions between the first and second units.