HUSKIES BY POSITION: NIU DEFENSIVE BACKS COMFORTABLE IN YEAR TWO

GO HUSKIES <i>Jimmie Ward made 100 tackles as a sophomore.</i>
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Jimmie Ward made 100 tackles as a sophomore.
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HUSKIE ALL-ACCESS HIGHLIGHTS

Aug. 13, 2012

Over the next two weeks, NIUHuskies.com will preview every position on the 2012 Northern Illinois football team. Monday's second installment focuses in on 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. Coming Tuesday: tight ends and fullbacks.

Previous Huskies by Position Previews
Wide Receivers (Friday, August 10)

DeKALB, Ill. - Defensively speaking, there's nothing more comforting to a football coach than a solid secondary. With a secondary that includes five players who started at least seven games a year ago, a safety who made 100 tackles en route to earning All Mid-American Conference honors as a sophomore, seniors at both cornerback spots and familiarity with each other and with the defensive system, it's safe to say Northern Illinois Head Coach Dave Doerenhas entered a "comfort zone."

Speaking on the second day of two-a-day practices during preseason camp, Doeren said not only are the returning players back, but their familiarity with the defensive system in 2012 has made a huge difference.

"There is a lot of experience back there," Doeren said. "The key thing is the communication is way better than it was last year at this time. You can see the guys using the rules of the defense, stemming around, having fun with the package more. There's a lot less `what do I do here moments' out there right now."

NIU defensive coordinator and safeties coach Jay Niemann said the starting pair of free safety Jimmie Ward - the Mobile, Ala. native who earned All-MAC honors as a sophomore a year ago - and strong safety Dechane Durante, a nine-game starter, have done a nice job transitioning into year two under Doeren's defensive system.

"Like anything, when you've already learned it, now you know it and the second time around is much easier," Niemann said. "They are off to a really good start here in training camp and doing a good job getting us into the right defenses and checks. Things are coming to them more quickly, they are much more comfortable with their techniques and assignments and as a result, we're playing more efficiently and we're playing faster."

Ward made 100 tackles as a sophomore while Durante made 57 stops and tied for the team lead with three interceptions. There is experience behind the two as well with senior Courtney Stephen continuing to come back from a 2011 knee injury, junior Dominique Ware and redshirt freshman Tre' Moore.

Doeren said that NIU's starting safeties bring both tackling ability and coverage skills that can be hard to find at the position.

"Both Jimmie and Dechane have very good man to man skills," Doeren said. "A lot of times you have a safety that you have to hide when you get into some man coverages. We don't have to do that, which is a nice luxury. They can both really run, they're long and have a quick change of direction; they're quick-twitch guys. They like to hit, they like to tackle, but they are also guys we can jump into some man coverages when they need to."

At cornerback, senior Rashaan Melvin leads all of the Huskie defensive backs with 15 starts and five career interceptions. The former walk-on made 78 tackles to rank fourth on the team a year ago, and broke up a team-leading nine passes while intercepting three. He is backed up by another player with experience in junior Sean Evans. On the opposite side, senior Demetrius Stone has claimed the position while 2011 starter Jhony Faustin continues to come back from a spring injury. The development of redshirt freshman Paris Logan and true freshman Marlon Moorehas Doeren feeling good about depth at the position.

"We have better depth at corner than we had a year ago at this time with Melvin and Stone as seniors who played a lot of football for us last year," Doeren said. "Then we've got Faustin coming back, Sean Evans back, Paris Logan and true freshman Marlon Moore, who is really playing well. We feel like we have six guys who we can play with, not necessarily start with."

NIU cornerbacks coach Richard McNutt, said that as at safety, comfort with the system has the corners making plays.

"All those guys are working hard, they are fundamentally sound and they are picking up where they left off last year," McNutt said. "Now that they understand all the techniques, it allows them to play fast and make a lot of different plays. They know the defense inside and out. We challenge ourselves to go out there and compete and win on any route, against any receiver, any day. To this point [in camp], they've been almost flawless and they're working hard to get better."

With better communication, a better understanding of the defensive system and a year's experience behind them, defensive back looks to be a strength of the Huskie defense that features returning players at nearly every position in 2012.

Monday's Practice Notes: Northern Illinois worked out for two hours in full pads while a steady drizzle fell during the morning session, while the afternoon practice was in shoulder pads and helmets under overcast skies. The first team offense enjoyed some early success during the red zone drill near the end of Monday's second session, scoring three consecutive times on a Tommylee Lewis reception and run up the middle, a Tim Semisch juggling, one-handed catch, and a Jordan Lynch to Perez Ashford hook-up. The defense came back during the two-minute drill to end the day with a Tre' Mooreinterception. NIU enjoyed its first day off of preseason camp on Sunday and will practice once on Tuesday, the 10th practice of the preseason. To see all of NIU's updates from Preseason Camp, go to Camp Central on NIUHuskies.com.

Northern Illinois takes the nation's longest Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) winning streak into the 2012 season-opener after winning its final nine games of the 2012 season, including the Mid-American Conference Championship and the GoDaddy.com Bowl. The Huskies play host to Iowa at Chicago's Soldier Field on Sept. 1 and tickets to Soldier Field Showdown III are now on sale through Ticketmaster by calling 1-800-745-3000, or online at www.Ticketmaster.com.

Northern Illinois 2012 football season tickets are on sale through the NIU Athletics External Office at 815-753-1923 or online at www.NIUHuskies.com for just $120 for the full six-game Huskie Stadium season. Mini-plans, featuring any three Huskie Stadium games, can be purchased for $60, while NIU's HuskieLand Plan provides a ticket to the season-opener versus Tennessee-Martin (Sept. 8), the Kansas game (Sept. 22) and the MAC West rivalry game versus Toledo (Nov. 14) along with $45 in gift cards from Buffalo Wild Wings, Village Commons Bookstore and HyVee.

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