Aug. 16, 2010
DEKALB, Ill. - They are often referred to as a quarterback's "best friend" or "safety valve." They are expected to block, run and be a primary part of the passing game. One of the most overlooked positions in football, the tight ends, were featured by NIUHuskies.com during the Northern Illinois football team's two-a-day practice session Monday.
On the Huskies' preseason depth chart, juniors Jason Schepler and Jack Marks shared the top position, followed closely by senior Nick Groeniger. Schepler recorded four starting assignments last season, while Marks and Groeniger each gained valuable experience, seeing action in eight games apiece.
"Our guys are really progressing, and it all started in the spring," said tight ends coach Brian Anderson. "And our returning experience is going to be valuable. They (Schepler, Marks, and Groeniger) have grown up under our system, and have a great understanding of what is expected. They have been able to help the younger guys get adjusted."
Gone to graduation are Reed Cunningham and Bryan Beckner, who combined for 134 receiving yards and one touchdown last season. But Anderson is pleased with what his young group has accomplished thus far in preseason camp.
"Our guys are going to be very involved in the offense this year," Anderson added. "They are very involved in our passing game, as well as our run game. If we continue to grow as a unit, we're going to help this offense succeed.
"Our blocking is also going to be extremely important. We're well known for running the ball here at NIU, and have some great backs. It's important for us to be very involved in both the run and the passing game, and that starts with protection."
Schepler, a Sycamore native, is excited about the prospect of an increased role this season, and said the tight ends will play a key part in the success of NIU's offense.
"For us, it's important to get better at the little things," said Schepler. "We've been working on footwork and our hand placement, and just being in tune with what our offense is trying to accomplish. Nick (Groeniger), Jack (Marks) and I are all on the same page, and we're focused on helping this offense in whatever way we can."
Other tight ends on the 2010 Huskie roster include converted defensive lineman Adam Coleman, and freshmen C.J. Compher and Luke Eakes.