Aug. 7, 2012
DEKALB, Ill. - Northern Illinois head football coach Dave Doeren spoke at NIU's annual DeKalb Media Day at the Barsema Alumni and Visitor's Center on campus to preview the upcoming 2012 season.
"It's fun to be back at it. We practiced for the first time yesterday, and getting ready to have our second one here this afternoon. Helmets only; tomorrow we'll put the uppers on - shoulder pads and helmets - and then Friday we'll start our full-padded practices.
"We talked a lot as a team here the last couple days, and I think the best way I can tell you how we're approaching this season is, there's a quote I keep in my office, `Success isn't owned, it's rented. And the rent is due every day.' That's kind of our philosophy on where we're at. Last year we didn't panic when we were at 2-3, we just kept playing. And that's where we are now.
"So, it's a new season, it's a new year. We have to re-prove ourselves. Saying that you're the defending MAC champs is an honor, and we're excited to be in that position. We know that with that position comes the best shot we can get from every team we play. We won't sneak up on people, we realize that. We have to be at our best all the time. We look forward to being in that position. I'd much rather be a defending champ than be at the bottom of the ladder looking up. That's something we've earned. It was a great year, but I'm excited about the team I have now.
"Those guys are working extremely hard. We're still finishing our summer classes. So for those of you that do come to practice today, some of the guys won't be there. We finish summer school this Thursday, so we'll have the full roster back with us then.
"I'm really proud, our team is really proud, to be Huskies. When you can say you're the defending MAC champs, two-time MAC West champs, top five in the country for the second year in a row in APR, you're opening a new dorm on campus, you're opening a new indoor facility in the next 12 months, we're going to host the high school state games as Jeff mentioned, and we're going to play at Soldier Field again. There's a lot of very positive things going on with our football team. Everything I've heard from our academic center is that our players will post their best GPA for a semester that they have yet. Coming out of the summer, there's a lot of high expectations for how they're doing. There's a lot of players this summer that put in a ton of community service hours. Wish I had that total for you, but I don't yet. I just got an e-mail yesterday about one of our athletes doing something over at Wal-Mart. Bunch of guys doing a lot of things to help our community.
"Feeling good about the state of our team, the summer they had with Coach Ohrt, our strength coach. And now we get to play.
Our two deep is by no means set, but I'll kind of give you a picture of where that is coming off the field for one day of practice. Starting with our offense, at left tackle, Tyler Loos, who was out last season with an injury, is back and practicing. He's fully cleared. He and Ryan Brown are competing at that position. Left guard, Tyler Pitt and Aiden Conlon will be competing at that spot. Tyler Pitt is a guy that's played both guard and tackle, very athletic, state champion wrestler in high school, who's grown up a lot in the program. Excited to see the competition there.
"We did move Logan Pegram, who started at guard here for 22 games, to center. It's just my philosophy that our most-experienced player would be the one who snaps the ball and makes the line calls for our offense. Logan was our backup center a year ago, so he has all the capabilities to being there. I know he's excited about being the captain of that front. Mike Gegner will back him up.
"When we moved Logan inside, we moved Andrew Ness outside to guard. He's in the position right now where he's starting at right guard with Matt Killian behind him. At right tackle, Matt Krempel comes back to us. Matt had an injury to his knee a few years back, and he used last year to get healthy again. He's in really good shape right now, looking good. He's backed up by Wes Ott. We have the ability to bump a guy outside too, with Pitt being a guy who can swing back to tackle.
"Feel good about the depth there. I think that's biggest question mark people have is the lack of experience on our offensive line. I like how many players we have there that have played. I really like the young players that we redshirted last year in Conlon, Ness, and Killian. So I feel good about the depth we have. Now it's just putting the puzzle together and getting those guys enough reps.
"The O-line is a family within a family. For any of you guys that played football, you know where I'm coming from. They're different; they get no attention unless they screw up. When we win, no one will say anything about them. They do a lot of dirty work. They've kind of got to have their own little niche. Those guys are very tight nit. I know Coach Cary is going to do a great job with them. It's going to be fun to watch them grow throughout camp. It's similar to where what our D-line was a year ago.
"At tight end, Jason Schepler practiced yesterday. We are giving Jason every other day off to rest. We don't want to overdo too quick with his knee. So if you guys are out there and don't see him, that's what's going on. He had a great day yesterday; it was fun to watch him. Players went nuts when he had a little catch. He's doing extremely well. Tim Semisch and Luke Eakes are also playing tight end for us. At fullback, Rob Sterling and Ricky Connors are two guys you'll see when we get into our fullback formations.
"The quarterback position, a lot has been said already about what we lost at that spot, and I'm excited to see what Jordan will do now that it's his turn. I don't expect, anyone that leaves, to fill the shoes of who left. I expect them to be who they are, as good as they can be. Jordan will be different than what Chandler was; he'll be himself, which is pretty darn good. He's very athletic, he's very competitive, he's got a lot of grit, he's a physical runner, and I think people will be excited about what he brings to the game for us. Whether his numbers end up the same way Chandler's did, we'll see. All I care about in the end is the wins and losses, and that's one thing I feel comfortable with with Jordan.
"Matt McIntosh took the majority of the two reps in the spring. He had a great day yesterday. The two freshmen we brought in, Drew Hare and Matt Williams, are very good players. So there's going to be good competition there to see who ends up not just being the three, but eventually competing with Matt. Maybe see if one of those guys is good enough to be in that conversation. It's too early obviously to say that, but I wouldn't be surprised to see one of those two guys, as a freshman, to travel with us as an emergency, redshirt-type guy.
"Running back situation; a lot of people want to know where that's going - I do too. I think Akeem Daniels is our most dependable guy in the backfield right now. Akeem's the guy we trust the most, has made the most plays, and is the most versatile of them. Had a great summer, is doing extremely well in the classroom. He's the guy right now that you'll see the most with the first group. Leighton Settle is a guy, if he stays healthy, can help us. Jamal Womble, Cameron Stingily, and Perez Ford are three of our bigger backs, and we'll see where that competition goes. Perez had a very good day yesterday. Again, we're not in full pads yet, but for a true freshman he really stood out.
"In the receiver group, Martel Moore and Perez Ashford return as playmakers for us. Tommylee Lewis probably had our best spring as a slot receiver. We also return Jamison Wells, who plays baseball and football for us here at NIU, and Da'Ron Brown. Then on the outside, Angelo Sebastiano and Juwan Brescacin are two guys that redshirted last year that I think our going to help us this year.
"Specialist-wise, Ryan Neir, Mathew Sims, and Brian Mayer are three specialists that all return. Last year that was a question mark, this year it's not. Our punt team last year gave up an average of less than one yard per return, which I think is outstanding. Part of that is the coverage and the scheme, but a lot of that is Ryan Neir. We look forward to him having a great senior year for us. Mat [Sims] had two pressure kicks and did a lot more than people expected as our placekicker last year. Tyler Wedel will still handle our kickoffs.
"On the defensive side of the ball, our defensive line, Sean Progar and Alan Baxter are both back at end. Look for them to pick up where they left off. Nabal Jefferson, Ken Bishop, Anthony Wells, and Donovan Gordon will be our four-man rotation inside. You'll also see Joe Windsor and Jason Meehan on the outside. We'll rotate; we played as many as ten guys last year on our defensive line. I wouldn't expect to see any different there.
"At linebacker, I think we improved quite a bit there with Tyrone Clark. Tyrone is a leader of our football team, without a doubt. He's done everything anybody could do from a work-ethic standpoint to make us a better football team, to lead our players. Tyrone will start as our boundary linebacker, backed up by Michael Santacaterina. Our middle linebacker, Victor Jacques, backed up by Boomer Mays. Really excited about where those two guys are going to go. Vic is a senior, he's a hungry player, and he wants to prove himself. He finished the year playing extremely well for us. Was one of our best special teamers last year. Boomer Mays was a redshirt that's also a long snapper that is the all-time state tackle leader in Kansas; had over 400 career tackles in high school. Jamaal Bass will start as our field linebacker, and we moved a safety to back him up here in the last couple days, Rasheen Lemon, who was playing safety for us, is now playing the field linebacker position. Looking forward to seeing Rock out there.
"In the secondary, we return Rashaan Melvin, senior corner, backed up by Sean Evans and Paris Logan. Jhony Faustin, Demetrius Stone, and Marckie Hayes on the other side at corner. Jimmie Ward and Dechane Durante return at safety. I think we have two of the better safeties in the MAC. Two guys that a lot of schools would love to have. Backed up by Dominique Ware, Tre Moore, and Courtney Stephen.
"That kind of rounds out our defense. They're working hard. I can't tell you how good we're going to be until we get pads on. I think the game's played and it's a physical game. Right now we're just teaching fundamentals and schemes. It will become very physical in the next three or four days. So we'll know a lot more about where we stand. I think our guys understand we have to work to get everything we're going to get. I told them yesterday that I do believe in karma, I do believe in the football gods, and we need to do everything we can to make sure both are smiling on us at the end of the year. I think a big part of that is not cutting corners, working extremely hard, and doing things the right thing.
"The schedule's been out for a while, but you guys know we open with Iowa. Iowa is a team I have immense respect for. I think Kirk Ferentz is one of the best coaches in college football. The fact that he's done it so many years in the same place with many, many opportunities to leave there shows a lot about his passion for the school he works for. He's got a good football team, they're always a physical football team, they're a well-coached football team, and they play in a physical conference. I hope the fans understand how good that football game will be if they get down there to it.
"Then we come home and we play a Big 12 team here. In the MAC, there aren't many opportunities where there's a BCS team in your stadium, and we do have one with Kansas here. That's a game I felt like we left on the field last year, losing in the last seven seconds. So it's a game, me being from that state and us not playing the way the way I thought we could play, I look forward to playing that game.
"We go to Army, which I've been told, is one of the best places to play in America. Really looking forward to taking our team there and feeling the history of that stadium. Then our MAC schedule begins with Central Michigan. Then the month of October we go for a road trip. We have three of four on the road in October: at Ball State, Buffalo at home, at Akron, at Western Michigan. Then we come home and play UMass and Toledo. We finish with the Thanksgiving game with Eastern Michigan. A great schedule.
"I've heard about our season ticket sales and the one thing I'll tell our fans, I don't think you know what you have right now. You have a team with the nation's longest winning streak, you have a team that has a 15-game home winning streak, you have a team that's doing things very, very well on the field that puts a fun product out to watch. There's a ton of college football teams in the country that would die to have what we have out on the field.
"I just plead that you come out and watch these guys, they work extremely hard, and in my opinion they deserve the stadium to be packed every time they play. That's the kind of product they're putting out there. I'm not the first guy who's done it. If you look at the last 12 years in the MAC, NIU, overall, has the winningest team in the MAC. It's a product that's been there for a while. My pitch is, if you want to see a winning team play, a fast offense play and physical defense and do it in a very inexpensive, family-friendly environment, come check us out."
On the team's offensive playmakers
"You can look at Martel in the bowl game with over 200 yards receiving, and he did it the year before in the Fresno bowl game. Perez Ashford has made clutch catch after clutch catch for us last year. At tailback, Akeem Daniels is a guy that can score every time he touches the football. Tommylee Lewis proved it in Toledo that he's lightning in a bottle too. He's a guy that when he touches it, things can happen. I'm excited about our tight end group. I think Luke Eakes, Tim Semisch, and Jason Schepler present a lot of challenges for defenses. So those are the guys I think will stand out to you. There are some younger kids that might jump into the mix, but right now that's who I would say."
On Jason Schepler's health
"He's good. When I was at Wisconsin, Joe Thomas had an ACL injury the year before his senior year, and this is the plan they used there for him. It's more of a prehab plan. He's fully cleared; he's doing great. I could practice him every day if I wanted to, but I'd like to have Jason playing for us this year, more than I'd like to have him playing in two-a-days. It's just a way for him to have the rest required where you don't end up with tendonitis. Let him push himself, let him recover. That'll be a way to have him the way he needs to be. He's doing really good right now, and I want to keep it that way."
On the returning starters on defense
"I think that's our strength, when you look at returning players that have played in games. If we can keep the scores down where we don't have to outscore people early on and allow our offense the opportunity to get their game together, similar to what happened last year. But you never know how a game's going to go. The one thing I will say is that we have a quarterback that will equal the playing field at times because of his running ability. We may not have to block things perfectly every time."
On the team's tempo this year
"We're going to go fast. We'll change tempos. That's one thing we didn't do a whole lot last year, when we went as fast as we could go the whole game. I think that fit what we had. We will change. I know Coach Dunbar is a big believer in not just being in one mode where the defense can get used to it. Go as fast as you can, slow it down, speed it up, slow it down. So that the defense is constantly wondering what the next thing's going to be."
On quarterback depth
"I haven't seen Matt play in a game yet. Going off of practice and seeing him improve, by the end of this thing we're going to be pretty excited about where Matt McIntosh is. But he's young. If the ball ends up in his hands for a number of games, he'll have to show us he's ready. I do love the improvement I've seen out of him and the two freshmen are ahead of the curve."
On the MAC West
"It's a pretty strong division in the West, not to downplay the East. The games that we had with those teams last year; I've seen where people have picked Ball State last. In my opinion, they were one of the most physical teams we played last year. I think everyone talks about the returning quarterbacks at certain places, and that's important as well. But when you look at who played well, Ball State beat Indiana last year, beat Army. Eastern Michigan had a heck of a season; they lost two games in the last minute. They would have been an eight-win team. Those were the two that I saw on the bottom of the media. Toledo played extremely well last year. Central Michigan was the second-youngest team in the country last year they say. So they might be a lot better. It's a really impressive league. Ohio returning Tettleton on the other side makes them the favorite, which I understand. It's set up for a lot of teams. I think it's been who's had the oldest, best quarterback in the league seems to be the team that does the best. It's kind of the history of the MAC. So there are several teams that fit that. That being said, it's up for grabs. Like Jeff Compher said yesterday, in the last 22 years, nine different teams have won the MAC. That's a stat that tells it all."
On defensive expectations
"From a defensive standpoint, I think you have to do a really good job of tackling in space. If you give up explosive plays, you can't let them be touchdowns; you have to be able to line up again. I think there are a lot of plays where you can create turnovers still, where the defense has to be a takeaway defense. If you look at what we did at the end of the year, playing Eastern Michigan and holding them to 12 points, playing the way we did in the conference championship game - we turned it over five times but still held Ohio to 20. Then I thought Arkansas State was the best team we played outside of Wisconsin last year, and played extremely well on defense. If you look at those three games, we tackled well, we took the ball away, I think we had six interceptions, that's what you have to do. You're not going to say you're going to hold those teams to 300 yards every game, that's never going to happen with college football's offenses any more. But you can still keep points off the board. At the end of the day, we have to score more than them. I think if you're holding people to 20 points a game on average, if you're finding a way to get a turnover, defensively speaking, every 30 snaps of the game, you're going to win a lot of those football games."
On Martel Moore's season outlook
"I would just like Martel to be a consistent playmaker. There were two or three games where he was untouchable, and then there were a couple games where you didn't hear much from him. You would like your seniors to play their best football, day in and day out. I think of the best teams I've been on, that's what we've gotten. I don't think you could argue that most of the senior class last year played their best football. So just for Martel, just be the same guy each week. If they double-team you, then other people will benefit from that. We have to force an issue where people want to do that to him, so then Perez is one-on-one, and the tight ends are one-one-one. It helps us at other position."
On Jordan Lynch's play-calling freedom
"Little bit, depends on the game plan. If we're playing a team where there are a lot of things we want to check in and out of, based on their defensive packages, then he'll have a lot. If it's a team that we can pretty much dictate what they're going to play by formations and situations, then we won't make him do that. I think a lot of that is we don't make our players think when we don't have to; we just let them play. So it depends on the game plan, how much protection stuff is going on with the pressures and stuff like that."
On returning to Soldier Field
"Last year we didn't play well there. We played a Rose Bowl team, so they were pretty good. But we didn't put our best product on the field. A little bit of being there is playing better than we did a year ago. I know the last time they played Iowa there, we lost as well. So we would like to go down there, in a city that is close to us, and dear to our players because a lot of players are from Chicago, and play well. The second part of it is that I think 62 players on our roster are Illinois kids, and a lot of them are Bears fans, so just being in that stadium is a lifelong experience for them. So from that standpoint, it's huge. It's a big recruiting part of what we do. Our players, know they'll be in that stadium once in their career, is something to look forward to."