For the second practice this year, NIU had referees on the field and with the team having been in pads for the fourth straight day, the intensity was once again upped a notch.
"It was fun to see guys finish plays," said NIU Head Coach Dave Doeren. "I wanted to see the runners have to run through contact, the defense to make stops, and the receivers make guys miss. I'm anxious to see the film."
The Northern Illinois offense, under the direction of quarterbacks Chandler Harnish and Jordan Lynch, seemed to get the best of the defense early in the situational down and distance drills. The offensive line and tight ends opened lanes, and running backs Jamal Womble, Jas Hopkins, Akeem Daniels and Leighton Settle took full advantage.
"It is getting slower for the offense," Doeren said. "The tempo has slowed down. I think their attention to situation is a lot more developed. Chandler is confident right now and they understand our goals on first down, on second down, in the red zone. Jas had a good day. I was excited to see the running backs do some things after the catch. It's fun watching all these guys compete."
With several veteran defensive linemen on the sidelines due to injuries Saturday (nearly all should return prior to the end of spring), a host of young defensive linemen, including recently converted former offensive linemen Tyler Pitt, Matt Battaglia and Kyle Jenkins (who moved back to defense, his original position at NIU), got extensive reps. That experience will only make the Huskies stronger, said Doeren.
"It's huge anytime you can build depth," Doeren said. "That allows you to rotate a lot of guys when some of those players come back. In the long run, it is going to help our team."
Doeren said one of his favorite plays of the day was a Rashaan Melvin blocked PAT following an offensive score.
"I loved to see that blocked extra point by Melvin," he said. "I was fired up about that."
The end of practice featured a field goal kicking competition between kickers Mat Sims and Ryan Fillingim with the losing kicker's "team" forced to do up-downs. In the end Fillingim - kicking for the reserves - made the last kick after a lengthy session back-and-forth, despite the best efforts of the starters to distract him.
Practice Notes: The sun shone brightly throughout Saturday's session but a strong wind kept NIU's end zone lift and operator grounded for the first time this spring... Huskie mascot Diesel and his owner, Tom Bonnevier, were on the sidelines... Diesel took several practice laps in the end zone as he went through his own version of "spring drills"... Former Huskies Jake Coffman, D.J. Pirkle and Cory Hanson watched a good portion of practice from the sidelines.