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Depth Chart: Opportunities abound for talented Lights

Northern's fall camp has position battles waging all over the field


August 17, 2017

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

Montana State University-Northern head coach Aaron Christensen watches his quarterbacks pass during a morning practice of fall camp this week. The starting quarterback job is just one of many positions that are up for grabs during the three weeks leading up to the Lights' season-opener at Rocky Mountain College.

The battle for the starting quarterback position at Montana State University-Northern is one that will be a hot topic throughout fall camp. And, it may not end until just days before the Lights open the season Sept. 2.

However, as the Lights' 2017 camp moved into its third day Wednesday morning, the quarterback battle is far from the only position group that is, to say the least, unsettled.

And while, for the first time in head coach Aaron Christensen's tenure, the Lights feel like their depth and strength in numbers is good, starters and a depth chart are something Northern is working through at almost every position.

"It's kind of funny, the last couple of years, we've been really young when it comes to depth," Christensen said. "But last year, we did have a big graduating class, so now we're looking at which guys are going to step up and fill those spots."

Graduation did hit Northern hard last spring. Gone are two of the all-time greats to ever suit up for the Lights in record-setting running back Zach McKinley and all-time sack leader, defensive end Tyler Craig. So, it goes without saying that running back and the defensive front, which also graduated the likes of Patrick Barnett, Jordan Brusio and Lane Urick are two big position battles in fall camp.

"Defensive line, the whole line really, is a big one," Christensen said. "We're going to have a lot of new faces there. We've got a lot of good running backs, but, they're all getting more reps than they ever have before, so it's just about seeing which guys fit best."

Like quarterback, running back is a big one for the Lights. McKinley leaves behind huge shoes to fill, and the likely replacement is junior Jett Robertson, who spent the last two years backing up McKinley. But Robertson's carries were few and far between, as McKinley was simply a workhorse back, who rarely came off the field. So while Robertson is a junior, and he's got plenty of talent alongside him, a starting role and a heavy workload will be new to him and any other Northern running back carrying the ball this season.

And again, the defensive front and running back aren't the only positions where Northern is looking for new faces to emerge on the depth chart over the next three weeks.

"It's a lot," Christensen said. "Quarterback is a big one, wide receiver is another one. We have some depth and experience there, but we do have to make sure we find the right guys to step up and make plays there. Defensive back, we're gonna have some new faces out there. Linebacker, inside we're pretty deep, but outside, we have to find some guys there. Defensive line, obviously. The D-line is going to be a big one, trying to figure out who's going to step in and replace all those guys we graduated.

"So we have a lot of spots where guys are going to get an opportunity," he continued. "And it's probably going to be that way right up until the week of that first game."

Indeed, Northern's depth chart, whether it's quarterback, D-line, or defensive back, will be ever-evolving over the next couple of weeks. That's what happens when so many good, veteran players graduate. And while the Lights do have some position groups that have clear-cut leaders, like linebacker Garet Fowler, tight end Kagen Khameneh, several wide receivers, and what is projecting to be a very stout offensive line, for much of fall camp, there will be major positions battles, with young players like Jake Norby and others, fighting for starting spots and playing time.

And Christensen believes that kind of competition will make fall camp that much better and more productive.

"I think it will be competitive, and talking with the coaching staff, we want to make sure it's that way," Christensen said. "So we won't be deciding on anything until that game week, and even that week and beyond, we'll be looking at a lot of different guys pretty hard."

A competitive camp is a must for the Lights, who are trying to climb their way back up the Frontier Conference ladder. But having so many position battles, and so much competition for playing time also means the Lights simply have more depth than they've had the last two or three years. And, that's been a goal of Christensen's since he arrived at Northern three years ago. He didn't want to just build a team for the immediate future, but a program with talent and depth that can be sustained over the long haul.

And seeing all of the competition and talent he has on the field through the first three days of fall camp, he believes the Lights are on the right track.

"We feel like we have a lot of depth and a lot of talent out here," Christensen said. "We know we have guys who can play. It's just trying to figure out the right ones. That's the process now is just finding the guys who can step up and play right now."

The Lights will continue the first week of fall camp with practices at 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. today through Saturday, including going full pads over the next couple of mornings. Northern opens the season Sept. 2 at Rocky Mountain College, then makes its home debut Sept. 9 against defending Frontier champion Montana Tech.


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