2011 Northern Illinois Preview – Defense
Northern Illinois DE Sean Progar
Northern Illinois DE Sean Progar
Posted Jun 2, 2011

CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Northern Illinois Huskie Defense

Northern Illinois Huskies

Preview 2011 - Defense

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- 2011 Northern Illinois Defense | 2011 Northern Illinois Depth Chart
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What You Need To Know:
The defense will be fine, and head coach Dave Doeren is a defensive whiz, but it's going to take a little while. The NIU offense should be dominant. It might need to be. The Huskie defense didn't get enough credit last year, overshadowed by the offense, but it was among the best in the MAC and did what it needed to. New defensive coordinator Jay Niemann has to rebuild several parts of the D that finished 26th in the nation in yards allowed and 14th in scoring defense, and it all starts up front with the top tackles and leader on the end Jake Coffman needing to be replaced. The tragic shooting of star middle linebacker Devon Butler – he's recovering – took away the team's best linebacker, and now the spotlight will be on a slew of untested options. The secondary is a bit more stable than the front seven, but not by much.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Tommy Davis, 73
Sacks: Sean Progar, 4
Interceptions: Rashaan Melvin, 2

Star of the defense: Junior DE Sean Progar
Player who has to step up and be a star: Junior LB Victor Jacobs
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore CB Dominique Ware
Best pro prospect: Progar
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Progar, 2) FS Tommy Davis, 3) LB Pat Schiller
Strength of the defense: Safety, Pass Rush
Weakness of the defense: Linebacker, Tackles

Defensive Line

State of the Unit: The defensive front wasn't great at getting to the quarterback, but it was fine with Jake Coffman coming up with 9.5 sacks. He's gone and the production has to come from some untested places both inside and out. This is a good-sized line that should be fine against the run, and no one can coach them like their new head man, Dave Doeren, who knows what he's doing.

With Coffman gone, the full spotlight will be on the other star of the line, 6-3, 260-pound junior Sean Progar. A tough, quick end who came up with 39 tackles, four sacks, and ten tackles for loss as a First Team All-MAC performer, he can be a pass rushing specialist but he's also dangerous against the run. More consistent a getting into the backfield than Coffman, he has a devastating combination of size and speed off the ball that's too much for most MAC offensive tackles. He'll be backed up by senior Kyle Jenkins, a promising former JUCO transfer who hasn't been able to get his NIU career off the ground after suffering a knee injury. A tremendous pass rusher when he's right, the 6-4, 258-pounder was a JUCO all-star with a great motor and excellent closing ability.

Trying to take over for Coffman on the right side will be a combination of 6-1, 236-pound sophomore Joe Windsor and 6-0, 252-pound junior Alan Baxter. Windsor saw time in every game as a reserve making seven tackles with half a sack, but he has the quickness to become an instant playmaker in the backfield. Baxter is short, squatty, and doesn't look the part, but he's experienced and is solid against the run. He came up with 12 tackles with 4.5 tackles for loss as a key reserve.

Trying to gum things up on the inside will be junior Nabal Jefferson, a bowling ball of a 5-11, 287-pound nose guard who got in a little work in every game making 25 tackles. A good interior pass rusher, he came up with 2.5 sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss, and now he's bigger, bulkier, and should do more against the run. He's the best of the lot on the nose, while 6-3, 310-pound redshirt freshman Frank Boenzi and 6-2, 300-pound sophomore Zach Anderson, who made a tackle in six appearances, bring more bulk.

Working at defensive tackle will be 6-3, 286-pound senior Ron Newcomb, a little-used reserve who made 13 tackles two years ago and five in six games of work last season. He has good size and he has the potential to be a decent interior pass rusher, but he has to prove he can stay on the field for a full season and produce. Sophomore Anthony Wells is an undersized 6-3, 248-pound interior pass rusher who won't do too much against the run, but he can move. He saw four games of action making a tackle for loss.

Watch Out For … the rotation of Windsor and Baxter. No one's asking either one to be Coffman, but there needs to be some threat of production from the right side or everyone will load up to stop Progar on the left.
Strength: Dave Doeren. Ryan Nielson will handle the defensive line after doing a great job at UT Martin, but it's Doeren who's the star defensive mind. He spent most of his time with the linebackers at UW, but he'll know how to get the front four into the backfield.
Weakness: Sure-thing defensive tackle. There's size among the young reserve and Jefferson and Newcomb are promising, but with Army's ground attack right away and Wisconsin looming early on in the schedule, the tackle situation has to be a rock from Day One.
Outlook: There's no replacing the leadership and maturity of Coffman, but Progar can get the job done as the main pass rusher and there's quickness across the board to get into the backfield. This won't be a killer of a defensive front, but it'll hardly be a weakness if the young big tackles like Boenzi and Anderson can add something right away and if Windsor and Baxter can produce on the outside.
Unit Rating: 5.5


State of the Unit: Dave Doeren will oversee all aspects of the team, and Tom Matukewicz knows what he's doing with linebackers, but the head man was great with the linebackers at Wisconsin and he should do big things with this group … in time. Gone is Alex Kube, the team's leading tackler and a heart-and-soul type of playmaker, and also gone for at least this year is Devon Butler, the second leading tackler in the middle who suffered a gunshot wound after being in the wrong place at the wrong time. There's a lot of work to do, but there are options to play around with.

The key will be replacing Butler in the middle, and it might take three players to do it. 6-1, 225-pound junior Victor Jacques was mostly a special teamer two years ago, making five tackles, but didn't play last year. Originally a fullback, he's tough for the middle, but he's green. He'll combine with 6-2, 234-pound sophomore Cameron Stingily, a former high school running back who moves well, but he only saw time in four games as a true freshman making two tackles. Also in the hunt is 6-1, 229-pound sophomore Mike Hellams, a speedy special teamer who made six tackles as a true freshman.

Taking over for Kube on the strongside will be 6-1, 210-pound senior Jordan Delegal, a Miami native who came to NIU a few years ago by way of Joliet JC. He's not all that big, but he can move and he can hit, coming up with 38 tackles in a reserve role in all 14 games. Kube was a nice tackler and a good all-around linebacker, but he wasn't as disruptive as he needed to be last year. Delegal should take care of that. Backing him up will be the combination of 6-2, 219-pound sophomore Greg Barksdale, who made six tackles as a reserve, and 6-0, 208-pound sophomore Gervaise Porter, a walk-on who was a decent high school running back and will get his chance in the rotation.

6-2, 231-pound junior Pat Schiller finished third on the team two years ago with 82 tackles with 5.5 tackles for loss, but last year he only saw time in nine games over the back half of the season and came up with 18 tackles. He's healthy again after the knee injury that kept him down last year, and he needs to be the leader on the weakside. 6-0, 213-pound redshirt freshman Jamaal Bass is a much more athletic option, but a much smaller one, who hits like a ton of bricks and should be decent in pass coverage with a little bit of work.

Watch Out For … the middle linebacker situation. Losing Butler's talent and all-around ability is a big problem, but obviously there are bigger issues going on with his health. Jacques will get every chance to be a major factor, but it could take several players to do all the things Butler did.
Strength: Schiller and athleticism. A healthy Schiller is a good, tough veteran to work the green linebacking corps around. There might not be a lot of sure things, but this is an athletic group that'll rotate in several players to find the right fit.
Weakness: Sure-things. It's not an overstatement to suggest that things would be fine if Butler was manning the middle, but there's a massive leadership void and the defense will rely on several untested players.
Outlook: The defensive front isn't going to be as good as it was last year and the linebackers will have to do more. The problem is that the linebackers need more work than the defensive linemen. All eyes will be on Jacques to see if he can get the job done, but Delegal should be excellent with more of a role and Schiller is more than fine.
Unit Rating: 5

Defensive Backs

State of the Unit: Compared to the front seven the secondary has things in place. There will be some changes and there are some missing pieces that need to be filled from a pass defense that allowed just 208 yards and was 33rd in the nation in pass efficiency defense. Last year's secondary was full of talent and playmakers, and while all the key parts aren't gone, there's work to do.

The key returning starter and the leader of the secondary is junior free safety Tommy Davis, a 5-11, 201-pound veteran who finished fourth on the team with 73 tackles with a pick and four recovered fumbles. While he was good on defense, he was tremendous on kickoff returns averaging 23.7 yards per try last year and 24.1 yards two years ago with a touchdown in each season. With his speed and experience he has to be more of a playmaker when the ball is in the air, but he's a good one who'll be an all-star. Backing him up will be former JUCO transfer Courtney Stephen, who sat out last year after starting at Wilfred Laurier University. At 6-0 and 195 pounds he has decent size and can move, but he still needs a little work.

5-11, 199-pound junior Demetrius Stone was a decent reserve making 20 tackles with three broken up passes. Now the strong safety job is all his, taking over from Mike Sobol who was decent, but replaceable. Stone, a former JUCO star, is a high-character player and the type of leader who could quickly make the secondary his with a few big games early on. Redshirt freshman Dechane Durante is a nice-looking prospect with corner athleticism and 6-2, 195-pound size, and while he might not be a better all-around athlete than Stone, he's not far off and he's bigger.

Junior Rashaan Melvin is a great-sized 6-2, 186-pound veteran who made 39 tackles with two picks and four broken up passes. He went from being a decent backup to a strong part of the rotation with one start, and now he should be the team's lockdown corner. Backup Sean Evans is a nice-looking prospect out of Florida with good cutting ability and strong upside, He's not as big as Melvin, but he's not small at 5-11 and 171 pounds.

Sophomore Dominique Ware will take over at right corner after seeing a little time as a true freshman after making three tackles with a tackle for loss and a pick in his minimal time. Very fast and very promising, he should be a key part of the puzzle for the next three years, but he'd be best as a nickel or dime defender where he can get all over the field to make plays. The combination of 6-0, 176-pound sophomore Jimmie Ward, who made 21 tackles last year as a top reserve and the team's special teams player of the year, and speedy 5-8, 176-pound redshirt freshman Marckie Hayes will work along with Ware.

Watch Out For … Ware and Ward. The Huskies will need production from the right corner spot on the other side of Melvin, and the more big plays they can come up with, the more the coaching staff can move them around in five defensive back sets.
Strength: Safety. Davis is just growing into the job and has all-star potential if he can come up with a few picks. Stone has the JUCO experience and now he should know what he's doing as one of the team's top tacklers.
Weakness: Veteran depth. It's a problem across the board for the NIU defense, but it's a huge issue for the secondary that still needs to find the right combination for the starting foursome.
Outlook: The defensive backs will be fine, but they might need a little bit of time. There's good athleticism and nice prospects for all four spots, but everyone needs to find their defined role and Davis has to dominate as the elder statesman of the group.
Unit Rating: 5

Special Teams

State of the Unit: The Huskies got a decent year out of Michael Cklamovski, who hit 17-of-27 field goals including a 51-yarder, but sophomore Matthew Sims should be ready to step in after hissing 2-of-3 field goals with his miss getting blocked. He doesn't have the leg of Cklamovski, but he has range from 45 yards and in and should be fine, but junior Josh Gallington, a JUCO transfer, will get every chance at the job.

The punting game was among the worst in the nation, netting 33.72 yards per kick and finishing 105th in the country. Junior Ryan Nier is a strong athlete and has a big enough leg to average more than 40 yards per boot.

Safety Thomas Davis has been the main kick and punt returner over the last few years, and he has done a great job at each. He's an elite kickoff returner averaging 24 yards per try with a score, and he averaged a solid 7.9 yards per punt return.

Watch Out For … Jimmie Ward. The backup corner was the team's special teams player of the year with three blocked punts. He's a tremendous all-around playmaker.
Strength: Davis. He has been a terrific return man over the last two years with gamebreaking ability, especially as a kickoff returner. He's a game-changer.
Weakness: Coverage teams. The punting game struggled, but wasn't bad at getting teams pinned deep, and the placekicking needs work, but the Huskies have to work mostly on kickoff coverage after allowing 21 yards per try.
Outlook: The special teams have been fine over the last few years, and they haven't really mattered too much in the outcomes of games. They weren't great, but they didn't turn out to be a major weakness. There are more issues and concerns this season, and the kicking game could be more of an X factor in close games.
Unit Rating: 5

- 2011 Northern Illinois Preview | 2011 Northern Illinois Offense
- 2011 Northern Illinois Defense | 2011 Northern Illinois Depth Chart
- Northern Illinois Previews  2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006