Huskies Happy with Scrimmage, Progress Number One Offense Enjoys Success
Chad Spann ran for 48 yards on nine carries while running with the first offensive unit in Saturday's scrimmage.
Aug. 15, 2009
DeKALB, Ill. - On the 10th straight day of preseason practice, Northern Illinois Head Coach Jerry Kill put his team through its first major scrimmage and afterward said he was pleased with his young squad's progress to date, but happy that the 2009 season opener with Wisconsin is still three weeks away.
"Overall, as a football team I think we have a lot of improvements to make, but we are about where I thought we'd be at this point in camp," Kill said. "We were pretty sharp early with the older kids [out there], and we played a lot of people. The kids came out hard.
"I'm glad we have three more weeks," he continued. "We need three more weeks. We have to worry about us getting better each day. We have time, but we have to keep getting better."
Tailbacks Chad Spann (Indianapolis, Ind./North Central HS) and Me'co Brown (Moss Point, Miss./Moss Point), working with the number one offense, ran for 48 and 34 yards, respectively, on nine carries each. Both scored one touchdown. Spann was particularly impressive, showing his strength while driving cornerback Kiaree Daniels (Kissimmee, Fla./Highland JC) backwards for several yards on a nine-yard pick-up.
In addition to his work on the ground, Brown led the Huskies with three receptions for 23 yards while Willie Clark's (Roselle, Ill./Lake Park) diving one-hander for a first down was the most spectacular catch of the workout. Clark caught two passes for 24 yards. In all, 10 players caught passes from starting quarterback Chandler Harnish (Bluffton, Ind./Norwell), who completed nine-of-12 throws for 82 yards on the day, and back-up DeMarcus Grady (Grand Rapids, Mich./East Grand Rapids), who hit four-of-five passes for 50 yards.
Harnish noted the progress the offense has made in the last year and the stark contrast between camp a year ago, when the redshirt freshman had never taken a collegiate snap, and this season.
"We are so much farther along than last year, I don't even have words to describe it," Harnish said. "Everyone has better football knowledge and an understanding of what we're trying to do as a unit, as an offense. The first couple of series we took it down [the defense's] throat, and they are a really good defense so that's not easy to do. Playing against them every day, I know that you can't take one play off because they bring it every play. They congratulated us today but I know on Monday when we get out here they are going to be fired up."
The defensive effort was highlighted by cornerback Chris Smith's (Palmetto, Fla./Highland JC) interception after a Cory Hanson (Minneapolis, Minn./De La Salle) tip, while safeties David Bryant (St. Louis, Mo./Ladue Horton Watkins) and Mike Sobol (Pevely, Mo./Herculaneum) each recorded a quarterback sack.
Not surprisingly, the defense was not as pleased with Saturday's results, as noted by nose guard D.J. Pirkle (Frankfort, Ill./Lincoln Way East)
"It went alright," Pirkle said. "We had a couple of mistakes, but it was the first real scrimmage of the year so we had some guys learning on the fly. People were playing a lot of plays, getting 10 or so at a time instead of three like we usually do in practice. We have to get used to playing like this, get your body adjusted to game situations. Overall we are getting better, people are learning."
Young people learning has been a familiar theme for Kill after the 12 practices the team has had over the last 10 days, and one he repeated Saturday.
"We are working with a lot of younger players, but we have no choice," Kill said. "The great thing is the young kids are hungry, they want to do well. There is no question that as you get older and more experienced, you are going to get better, and there is no better way of getting experience than to play. That's why we had no coaches on the field today, we just let `em play."
That included several periods at the end of the day featuring just the "younger" players, where running back Antione Kirkland (Boca Raton, Fla./Olympic Heights) stood out with 11 carries for 52 yards and a score.
Perhaps the most impressive player at Saturday's scrimmage was kicker Mike Salerno (Orland Park, Ill./Sandburg), a preseason All-MAC choice who was named to the Lou Groza Award Watch List this past week. Salerno hit field goals of 23, 47 and 52 yards, and was booming kickoffs through the end zone during the periods of practice devoted to that part of the game.
After 12 practices in the last 10 days since camp started August 6, Northern Illinois will not practice Sunday, although the team will meet and lift during the day. NIU returns to the Huskie Stadium field on Monday with a pair of workouts scheduled.
Season and single game tickets for the 2009 Northern Illinois Football season are on sale now. Season tickets for the entire six-game home schedule can be purchased for the value price of just $90 with discounts 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. With the mini-plan priced at $50 and single game tickets priced at just $20 for general public. 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.