The reloading of the MAC's No. 1 defense has been one of the more fascinating stories to follow in this year's spring practice. Two-time Vern Smith Award winner Larry English headlines a list of seven starters lost from last year's squad, including both cornerbacks, two linebackers, and three defensive linemen.
As a result, there has been competition at almost every position. So far this spring, NIU defensive coordinator Tracy Cleays has been pleased with what's he's seen from the defense.
"The kids that didn't get a chance to play much last year have gotten a lot better," Cleays said. "The ones that were here a year ago have also improved. So, we've built a little bit more depth."
A couple positions that were a concern for Cleays heading into camp have sorted themselves out in the first two weeks of spring practice.
"Linebacker was little bit of a concern before we got started, but that has worked out good," he said. "In the secondary, we've identified some kids that have performed well."
"Rashaan Melvin and Kiaree Daniels are getting a ton of reps at corner because of our injury situation at that position," NIU head coach Jerry Kill said. "The corners that we have playing right now are getting great experience, but we're just not very thick there."
The defensive line has been a position of great scrutiny for Cleays this spring. In addition to the loss of English, the Huskies also will be without the services of defensive end Craig Rusch and defensive tackle Alex Krutch.
"That's probably the one position we're a little bit concerned about," Cleays said. "We've got to play better up front. That's also the hardest one with all the contact on every play. Kids just have to get adjusted. We redshirted a lot of kids last year, so they didn't get to play at all. Eventually we'll get there."
One position the Huskies have few concerns about is safety. Senior David Bryant, who started all 13 games for NIU at free safety last season, led Northern in tackles with 83 and forced a team-high three fumbles. The Huskies' second-leading tackler from a year ago, junior Mike Sobol, started all but one game at strong safety in 2008.
"We're very good at safety," Kill said. "We've got four safeties that can play. They're very good football players."
Evaluating players is a never-ending process. Last year, the coaching staff spent much of the spring getting to know the players and their abilities. This year has been far different.
"You can demand a lot more from them because you know what they're capable of doing," Cleays said. "We've picked up the pace a little bit because you have to in order to compete. Every team is going to get better. We just have to get better faster than other teams. We've been a lot more demanding in the spring."
Be sure to also check out John Sahly's practice recap in the DeKalb Daily Chronicle.
Thursday Morning Practice Notes
- Northern Illinois redshirt freshman Tommy Davis was wearing the red jersey at practice today as he moved over to the defensive side of the ball and is working at cornerback. Davis, who was originally listed as an "athlete" when he signed at NIU, redshirted as a true freshman but worked solely at wide receiver. Huskie head coach Jerry Kill said Davis is a "natural" cornerback, and he shores up a position that has been thin this spring.
- However, cornerback was bolstered by the return to practice of junior college newcomer Chris Smith. Smith, who has been sitting out with a knee injury, was back working in drills on Thursday.
- After practice, Kill commented on the "spring" in everyone's step - including his own - this morning, thanks to the appearance (finally) of spring weather at Huskie Stadium. By the end of the workout, temperatures had warmed to nearly 60 degrees, the sun was shining brightly enough to require sunglasses on the west sidelines, and the wind barely even blew the punters' early-morning kicks. The sunshine and pleasant temperatures contributed to a productive practice, in the coaches' opinion.
- Fun scene after practice as assistant coach Jay Sawvel's family stopped by to say hello. Sawvel took time to greet his wife, Jeannine, and daughters Mackenzie (4) and Miranda (2), then lifted the pink-clad Miranda onto his shoulders and proceeded to do some post-practice work with the Huskie corners, putting Davis, Rashaan Melvin and Donald Smith through additional drills. Just thought the contrast of the football players running through cones to the little girl in the pink coat riding atop dad's shoulders while he continued to coach showed the balancing act these coaches do between their Huskie Football "Family" and their actual families. And who knows, maybe Miranda is on her way to a coaching career!
Former Huskie great Bob Patterson passed away, Sunday.
We start Huskie Happenings today with some sad news, the passing of former Huskie men's basketball great Bob Patterson. Patterson, a 6-10 Hall of Fame Center for the Huskies in the early 1970's, died Sunday in his hometown of Miami, Fla.
Kristin Weiner jugando básquetbol en España.
Former Huskie women's basketball player Kristin Weiner talked with current NIU track and field athlete Rachel Pinson for the spring edition of "Chatting with Champions," part of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee Newsletter. Weiner is currently playing professional basketball in Spain. Find out about how Weiner has adjusted to everything overseas, from the culture to the court here.You can check out the complete SAAC newsletter here.
As we announced yesterday, NIU head football coach Jerry Kill will answer your questions on Thursday, April 16 in his first live web chat for NIUHuskies.com. Also, as the DeKalb Daily Chronicle's John Sahly announced in his "Huskie Wire" blog Wednesday, he will hold a live chat to talk about NIU spring football, as well as baseball and anything else related to NIU athletics.
NIU head football coach Jerry Kill has accepted an invitation to return as principal speaker at the 62nd annual Elks' Boys All-Sports banquet set for Wednesday, April 29. The Elks' banquet committee, headed by Richard "Doc" Holladay, selected Kill as their first speaking choice as a result of Kill's successful coaching career and his creation of a cancer-related foundation in southern Illinois.
The Northern Illinois softball team will play in the Windy City for the second-consecutive day Thursday, when the Huskies travel to Chicago to take on host DePaul, beginning at 4 p.m. The single-game contest will mark a homecoming for NIU head coach Lindsay Chouinard, and assistant coach Kara Amundson, who both played for the Blue Demons in their college days. Click here for live stats!
The Huskies tagged Northwestern starter Matt Diedrich for five earned runs on seven hits and three walks in five innings, while he recorded only one strikeout; but Northwestern's Jake Goebbert hit a walk-off two-run home run off Northern Illinois pitcher Dave Reynolds to lead the Wildcats to a 6-5 win in Evanston Wednesday. Check out our recap, along with the one provided by the DeKalb Daily Chronicle.