Huskie Tight Ends Must Be Versatile to Be Effective NIU holds first of four two-a-day practices
Senior Reed Cunningham had 22 receptions for 252 yards and scored three touchdowns in 2008.
Aug. 12, 2009
DEKALB, Ill. - After opening camp with six days of single practices, the Northern Illinois University football team held its first of four two-a-day sessions Wednesday at Huskie Stadium.
The Huskies, who donned shells for Wednesday, after practicing in full pads for the first time in camp yesterday, spent much of the afternoon working on team drills sandwiched in between special teams work. NIU head coach Jerry Kill and his staff focused on individual drills in the morning practice. That was valuable time for NIU's tight ends coach Brian Anderson.
Just by to the nature of the position, if there is one group that needs more individual work it is tight end. Part offensive lineman, part wide receiver, he has to be in sync with the offensive line to be a contributor in the running game, yet be agile to effective in the passing attack and has to be adept at doing both equally well. As a result, the Huskie tight ends split their time working with the offensive line and the quarterbacks.
"As far as practice time, you want to make sure you're sound up front, technique-wise," Anderson said. "That period isn't very long when you're doing individual stuff so you have to practice it at game speed. Then they have to go off and run routes. It's a double-edged sword, but you have to make that time for both of them."
During their individual periods, Anderson has the tight ends working on the fundamentals. Hand placement, footwork and communication all play a vital role in the effectiveness of the tight end. He felt that was the biggest adjustment for the tight ends when Kill and his staff first arrived at NIU, but he feels that the players have grown tremendously in that area since last year.
"We stress fundamentals so much," Anderson said. "That was a big change for them. They have taken it to heart how important it is to be fundamentally sound."
The Huskies have six tight ends in camp this year, with veteran Reed Cunningham (Cambria, Wis./Pardeeville) and sophomore Jason Schepler (Sycamore, Ill./Sycamore leading the way. Cunningham, who is the Huskies' leading receiver among returning players, had 22 receptions for 252 yards and scored three touchdowns in 2008, while Schepler, who had two catches for 15 yards, has improved immensely in his second season.
"Reed adds experience," Anderson said. "He's played in a lot of football games for us and has done a great job. Jason's a guy that has worked hard to be a better tight end. He's worked hard on catching the football and running routes."
"Camp's been going good," said Cunningham. "There have been a few ups and downs. We're throwing in some new stuff. You just have to be prepared when you come out here."
Anderson has also been impressed with the work turned in by Bryan Beckner (Bourbonnais, Ill./Bishop McNamara). Beckner started seven of 10 games for the Huskies in 2007, making his first career collegiate start against Kill's Southern Illinois squad.
"Bryan Beckner is a guy that played a lot the year before we got here," Anderson said. "He kind of fell in that trap of playing fullback last year and a little tight end. He's had a really good camp so far."
With a week of camp already under their belt and three more until the season opener at Wisconsin Sept. 5, Anderson and the Huskie tight ends will have plenty of time to work and become an integral part of NIU's offense.
Just for Kicks Mike Salerno (Orland Park, Ill./Sandburg) had a pretty good day today. He was named to the preseason watch list for the 2009 Lou Groza Collegiate Place-Kicker Award, which annually recognizes the top kicker on NCAA FBS teams just before practice. He then went on and hit a 44-yard field goal during the Huskies' team drills and recovered a fumble when the team was working on kickoff and kickoff returns. After practice, he went in the locker room and checked his phone. His mom left him a message informing him he was named to the Groza watch list.
Tickets for the 2009 Northern Illinois season are on sale now at the value price of just $90 for all six games. Discounts are available for NIU Faculty and Staff, NIU Alumni Association and Varsity Club members and senior citizens. A three-game "mini-plan" and single game tickets are also on sale. Tickets can be ordered at www.niuhuskies.com, by calling 815-752-6800 or in person at the Athletics Ticket Office in the NIU Convocation Center.