FOOTBALL: BSU offense will rely on experienced backfield early
BEMIDJI -- It was the first practice of the football season and already Eric Medberry was evaluating the Bemidji State offense.
"We've got a lot of positions up for grabs there so we're going to have to sort them out pretty quick," said Medberry, BSU's offensive coordinator. "We're going to give all these young guys a chance to compete and see who's going to rise to the top."
The Beavers returned to the practice field Thursday, beginning three weeks of training camp in advance of their Sept. 5 season opener at Winona State. Some teams use the first day of practice as a more casual day light on observation but for the Beavers coaching staff there's an urgency. The Beavers lost their starting quarterback, an entire receiving corps, a tight end and three offensive linemen.
"It was hard to get a good evaluation during spring," Medberry said. "We're going to have to answer a lot of those questions, like, next week. We don't have a lot of time to get ready for that first game."
Which is why Thursday Medberry and the rest of the BSU offensive coaches were already taking notes.
Quarterback is obviously the biggest question mark for this Beaver squad, and Medberry said BSU coaches hoped to have more clear front-runners in place by this time next week. Wide receiver and tight end will likewise battle it out.
In the meantime, the BSU offense will be leaning on their veteran backfield early on.
Running backs Avery Walker and Tony Peterson and fullback Brent Kondziolka have the most experience of any offensive skill players and will be an asset to a young team learning the ropes.
"We've gotta hope we can lean on those guys a little bit," Medberry said. "The rest of the inexperienced guys to kind of get their feet wet."
Kondziolka, a senior captain, saw the most time on the field last season. The 6-foot-1, 228-pound Illinois native started in seven games and playing in all 11. He was primarily used as a blocker and a receiver last season (with 13 receptions for 99 yards and three touchdowns) but according to the coaching staff he can also do a lot when he's handed the ball.
"We will find ways to get him the ball," Medberry said. "He can be playmaker in this league. I think he's the best fullback in our league. Just because of what he's done, he deserves to play a bigger role in the offense."
Walker is all for it.
"I've never played with a fullback as big as him, man," Walker said. "He's an all-around athlete, a hard-nosed runner and he'll block for you. ... He's one of our key guys on this offense."
Walker will be just as important in his own right.
BSU head coach Jeff Tesch called Walker a "home run threat" and the explosive senior from Milwaukee may turn some heads in his first season as a full-time starter.
"He's very shifty, but he's not afraid to stick his nose in there and get some hard yards," Tesch said. "We like to try and find ways to get him out in the perimeter and in some open space a little bit.
"He's a little bit different type of back than we've had in awhile."
Kondziolka noticed the same thing, contrasting him with previous BSU running back Dustin Kroeplin. Kroeplin was a big, bruising power back while Walker's specialty is speed.
"Avery is a different running back than we've had in the past," Kondziolka said of Walker. "Kroeplin was more of your hard yards here and there guy while Avery is a bit more speedy. I think it'll be more beneficial for us with me and him in there together, I think we'll complement each other well."
Walker didn't start last season but played in eight games off the bench, getting more playing time as the season went on. He finished fourth on the team in rushing with 272 yards on 49 attempts and scored three touchdowns.
"If we can keep him healthy and give him some touches, make him some holes, it will be fun to see what he can do this year," Medberry said.
Peterson, a sophomore, played in six games last season but spent most of his time on special teams. However, his impressive spring caused the coaching staff to move him up the depth chart.
"He really impressed us," Medberry said. "He's super smart, always in good position, tough, runs hard. He's going to be steady. You know what you're going to get with him."
Those three will give the Beavers some much-needed consistency on offense, although according to Medberry BSU coaches are going to look at everybody, which means freshmen like Brady Schmidt and Sam Stevens will get a chance to prove themselves.
"If they can get themselves in the conversation we're not afraid to play them," Medberry said. "You can't have enough depth at running back. If they're ready to help us they'll help us."
Whoever gets the playing time, Walker thinks this the upperclassmen on this year’s team — including his backfield mates — are ready to lead.
“We’re playing for each other this year,” he said. “On this team everybody cares about everybody. When we play for each other, we play hard. We’re all trying to make each other better, giving each other constructive criticism. That only makes the team better.”