HUSKIES BY POSITION: DEPTH AND EXPERIENCE ANCHOR THE DEFENSIVE LINE

GO HUSKIES Second team All-MAC honoree Sean progar returns to lead the NIU defensive line
GO HUSKIES
Second team All-MAC honoree Sean progar returns to lead the NIU defensive line
GO HUSKIES

Aug. 20, 2012

2012 NIU Preseason Camp Central

From August 10-27, NIUHuskies.com will preview every position on the 2012 Northern Illinois football team - today's featured group is the defensive line. 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.

DEKALB, Ill. -- Among the most experienced groups on the Northern Illinois football team headed into the 2012 campaign is the defensive line where the Huskies return three starters from a season ago. With such a veteran laden group returning, big things are expected from the Huskies up front on the defensive side of the ball.

"We like the depth that we have at defensive line and with seniors we like the experience we have there too," said NIU head coach Dave Doeren. "With the two defensive ends, (Alan) Baxter and (Sean) Progar, and then with Nabal Jefferson, that gives us three really smart, experienced guys. I love the addition of Ken Bishop inside; he is going to be a good player. With him and Anthony Wells, I think there will be a lot of penetration that can happen inside. Jason Meehan, George Rainey and Joe Windsor are so much improved from last year; I like the rotation we are going to be able to have at defensive end as well.

With that depth comes added comfort, something the Huskies didn't always have a season ago.

"Last year when we rotated some guys we held our breath a little," said Doeren. "We wondered how fast we could get our ones back in there where now we feel better about having the twos in there for a whole series, and sometimes even the threes."

Despite the depth and experience, NIU Co-Defensive Coordinator/Defensive Line Coach Ryan Nielsen continues to preach the basics and fundamentals throughout fall camp.

 "Fundamentally, as a group we have gotten a lot better," said said Nielsen. "That has been our stress during training camp, to be fundamentally sound. The guys are playing with great effort and their technique is coming along."

Leading the way on the defensive line for the Huskies is senior defensive end Sean Progar (Glenview, Ill./Glenbrook South). Progar was an All-Mid American Conference Second Team selection a season ago while also earning NIU Defensive Lineman of the Year recognition from the Huskie coaching staff. Progar made 52 total tackles in 13 games a season ago, including 11 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks. Progar has played in 40 games during his NIU career.

"Sean Progar is the leader of our group," said Nielsen. "He is a tough player; he does a good job of practicing the fundamentals. He has had a heck of a camp so far and we are looking for him to have a big season."

On the other end, senior Alan Baxter (Buffalo Grove, Ill./Buffalo Grove) returns after making 10 starts last season. Baxter tallied 48 total tackles in 2011, including 12.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks. Baxter was named NIU's Defensive Lineman of the Week following the Army contest in which he had seven tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, a forced fumble and a recovered fumble.

Pushing for time behind Progar and Baxter are juniors Joe Windsor (Kearney, Mo./Kearney) and George Rainey (Milwaukee, Wis./South Divison) along with sophomore Jason Meehan (St. Louis, Mo./Webster Groves).

Windsor appeared in 13 games last season, making two starts. The Kearney, Mo., native recorded 20 tackles, including two for loss in 2011. Rainey also appeared in 13 contests for the Huskies a season ago, seeing most of his time on special teams.

Meehan was one of just four true freshmen to letter in 2011, and the only one on defense. Meehan appeared in 14 games and registered 26 total tackles, including three tackles for loss and a half-sack. Meehan earned Freshman Defensive Player of the Week honors from the NIU coaching staff.

In the middle, the Huskies are anchored by senior tackle Nabal Jefferson (Chicago, Ill./Marist), who made 11 starts a season ago while appearing in all 14 games. Jefferson had 29 total tackles in 2011, including five tackles for loss. With six stops, including a tackle for loss and a fumble recovery, Jefferson earned Defensive Lineman of the Week honors against Buffalo a season ago. The Chicago native has played in 39 games during his time as a Huskie.

Also leading the way in the middle are juniors Anthony Wells (North Chicago, Ill./North Chicago) and Ken Bishop (Lauderhill, Fla./Piper/Ellsworth CC). Wells appeared in all 14 games last season, including three starts. He made 16 tackles, including five for loss and a pair of sacks. Bishop is a junior college transfer who came to NIU in January following two seasons at Ellsworth Community College in Iowa Falls, Iowa. In 2011, Bishop made 67 tackles and earned first-team All-Midwest Football Conference honors.

Further down the depth chart Doeren also likes what he sees with a group that will likely have the benefit of redshirting this season.

"I think Mike Ippolito has had an outstanding camp," Doeren said. "Hopefully we will redshirt him, not because he's not a guy that could play it's just that there are enough people in front of him that you don't have to. We like the young tackles as well; it's a similar situation where developmentally we think they can get better for us."

Tickets for the Sept. 1 NIU-Iowa contest at Soldier Field are on sale to the general public through Ticketmaster, as well as the NIU Athletics Ticket Office. Fans can order tickets online at Ticketmaster.com, by calling the Ticketmaster toll-free number at 1-800-745-3000, or in person at any Ticketmaster outlet. The NIU Athletics Ticket Office is open Monday-Friday from 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

Northern Illinois 2012 football season tickets are on sale now through the NIU Athletics External Office at 815-753-1923 or online at 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 new HuskieLand Plan tickets provide a ticket to the home 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 Hy-Vee.