Aug. 10, 2011
Over the next two weeks, NIUHuskies.com will preview every position on the 2011 Northern Illinois football team, today we highlight the defensive backs. In addition, sign up for Huskies All-Access to see a video breakdown of every position with interviews and practice highlights. The video will be available within 24 hours after the article is posted. Thursday's position group: the quarterbacks.
DEKALB, Ill. -- As the Northern Illinois football team enters its second week of fall camp, one position where first year head coach Dave Doeren is looking for new starters is in the secondary. With starting corners Patrick George and Chris Smith departed, there is playing time available for those who make an impression in camp.
One player who has made such an impression is former walk-on Rashaan Melvin (Waukegan, Ill./Waukegan), who looks set to begin the season as one of the starting corners for the Huskies. Melvin, who appeared in all 14 games a season ago, made a pair of starts last season, against Illinois and Western Michigan. The 6-foot-2 redshirt junior tied for eighth on the team last season with 39 total tackles, including 24 solo efforts. He was also third on the team in interceptions in 2010 and fourth in pass breakups.
Redshirt sophomore Dominique Ware (Bolingbrook, Ill./Plainfield North) sits atop the NIU depth chart at the other cornerback spot. Ware appeared in eight games last season, seeing the first collegiate action of his career against Akron. Ware also picked off a pass in his debut against the Zips.
Also in the mix at the cornerbacks spots early in camp are redshirt sophomore Sean Evans (Ft. Walton Beach, Fla./Ft. Walton Beach), sophomore Jimmie Ward (Mobile, Ala./Davidson) and redshirt freshman Marckie Hayes (Sycamore, Ill./Sycamore).
"They have been working very hard, they have become technically sound and have picked up where they left off in the spring," said NIU cornerbacks coach Richard McNutt. "Rashon Melvin and Dominique Ware have emerged as the leaders of this group and they are pushing the other guys to get better every day."
At free safety, Tommy Davis (East St. Louis, Ill./Althoff Catholic) returns after starting all 14 games a season ago. A playmaker from the back end, Davis led NIU, and tied for the conference lead, with four fumble recoveries. He also finished fourth on the team with 73 tackles last season, including 47 solo stops. In addition to his defensive duties, Davis was named to the All-MAC Third Team as a return specialist in 2010.
As the most experienced player in the defensive backfield, Davis doesn't see the NIU coaching change as much of a challenge for the secondary.
"There are only so many ways that you can play cover three," said Davis. "A lot of the stuff stays the same. Maybe concepts here and there are different but, for the most part, we have stuck to the same basics we were used to playing."
Junior Demetrius Stone (Miami, Fla./American Senior/Coffeyville CC) is penciled in to the starting spot for the Huskies at strong safety. Last season, his first in a NIU uniform, Stone appeared in 11 games, making 20 tackles with three pass breakups. Stone had a strong close to the 2010 campaign, registering a career-best nine tackles, including six solo efforts, in the Humanitarian Bowl victory over Fresno State.
Other players near the top of the NIU depth chart at safety include redshirt freshman Dechane Durante (Charlotte, N.C./Vance) and redshirt junior Courtney Stephen (Brampton, Ont./Turner Fenton/Wilfrid Laurier).
"They have done a good job," said NIU defense coordinator and safety coach Jay Niemann. "We have some talented guys back there and they have done a good job of learning the system. There isn't a great deal of playing experience back there but you wouldn't know it from watching us practice thus far."
With Niemann and McNutt splitting the duties coaching the secondary, Niemann sees it as a chance to give the players more hands-on coaching.
"We get to work on more technique and more fundamental work," said Niemann. "It's simply a better student-to-teacher ratio."
The Huskies went through their first two-a-day on Tuesday and were greeted by cool temperatures on the Huskie Stadium turf as they wore full pads during the morning session. Among the highlights of the morning workout was a Dominique Ward fumble recovery that went for a touchdown, sending the defensive players and coaches into a frenzy.
In the afternoon, the team was in shells and worked on kickoff return for the first time this fall.
Northern Illinois opens the season on Sept. 3 when Army makes its first visit to Huskie Stadium. Tickets for the 2011 Northern Illinois football season are on sale now through the NIU Athletics Ticket Office in the Convocation Center and online at www.NIUHuskies.com. Season tickets for all six Huskie football home games are available for just $99 for the general public and $88 for NIU faculty and staff, senior citizens, NIU Alumni Association and Varsity Club members. Season tickets provide a 33 percent discount compared to single game ticket prices, and season ticket holders still receive a $15 discount off the purchase of an equal number of tickets to Soldier Field Showdown II. Three-game mini-plans are also available for just $50 each with customers allowed to choose their own games.
Northern Illinois fans can also purchase tickets to Soldier Field Showdown II, the Sept. 17 game between NIU and Wisconsin at Chicago's Soldier Field. Tickets to the game are $90, $75 and $60 and can be purchased online at www.Ticketmaster.com or www.HuskieFootball2011.com.
For more information on NIU season tickets or Soldier Field Showdown II tickets, call the NIU External Office at 815-753-1923 Monday-Friday between 8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.