2012 Northern Illinois Preview – Defense
Northern Illinois DE Sean Progar
Northern Illinois DE Sean Progar
Posted May 10, 2012

CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Northern Illinois Huskie Defense

Northern Illinois Huskies

Preview 2012 - Defense

- 2012 Northern Illinois Preview | 2012 Northern Illinois Offense
- 2012 Northern Illinois Defense | 2012 Northern Illinois Depth Chart

What You Need To Know:
The defense was okay, but not great considering Dave Doeren is a defensive coach and the staff is strong. The potential is there to be far stronger with a terrific pass rush from Sean Progar and Alan Baxter on the outside and an improved linebacking corps that welcomes back Devon Butler (gunshot wound) and Tyrone Clark (suspension) after missing all of 2011. The secondary that struggled with its consistency is deeper, more experienced, and better with Jimmie Ward one of the MAC's best free safeties and corner Rashaan Melvin a big, strong talent to close down one side.

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

Star of the defense: Senior DE Sean Progar
Player who has to step up and be a star: Senior NG Nabal Jefferson
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore SS Dechane Durante
Best pro prospect: Progar
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Progar, 2) LB Devon Butler, 3) LB Tyrone Clark
Strength of the defense: Linebackers, Pass Rush
Weakness of the defense: Run Defense, Consistent Secondary

Defensive Line

The defensive front wasn't anything special against the run, but the pass rush was solid thanks to an excellent pair of ends. 6-2, 254-pound senior Sean Progar might not exactly look the part of a speed rusher, but he's a tough, quick end who finds ways to get into the backfield on a regular basis making 5.5 sacks with 11 tackles for loss and 52 stops. With the right size to hold up against the run and a great burst off the edge, he has the total package of tools to be an all-star on the left side.

Progar was a star coming into last season, but senior Alan Baxter turned his game up a notch, too, starting ten times and cranking out 5.5 sacks, 12.5 tackles for loss, and 48 tackles. He might not be the pass rusher that Progar is, but at 6-0 and 240 pounds he has good size and is really, really quick. Strong against the run, he can hold up well. Now he has to do more on a consistent basis after going stretches during the middle of the year without coming up with a big play.

6-0, 287-pound senior Nabal Jefferson started most of last year, and while he was fine making 46 tackles with five tackles for loss with an interception, he wasn't always a sure-thing rock on the nose. Built for the position, he gets great leverage and is quick enough off the ball to be a big problem for most interior blockers. He'll rotate with 6-1, 304-pound sophomore Frank Boenzi, a large body who brings more bulk to the equation as a veteran backup. He saw time in almost every game last season making 12 tackles with a sack and three tackles for loss with the ability to work in either tackle spot.

The rotation of 6-1, 308-pound junior Ken Bishop and 6-3, 276-pound junior Anthony Wells will handle the defensive tackle job. Wells beefed up in a huge way over the last few years and got a little bit of starting time finishing with 16 tackles with two sacks and five tackles for loss. Bishop is a JUCO transfer from Ellsworth CC who's ready to go from the start. He should be an interior pass rusher while also having the size to gum up the works.

6-0, 236-pound junior Joe Windsor started two games on the end and worked a key backup the rest of the way finishing with 20 tackles and two tackles for loss. A veteran, he can step in on either side but will start out the year working behind Baxter, while 6-1, 241-pound sophomore Jason Meehan will play behind Proger after seeing time in every game making 26 tackles with three tackles for loss. These two will be the stars on the outside next year.

Watch Out For … Bishop. It's not like he has the starting job with Wells in the hunt, but at the very least he'll bring his 308-pound size to the interior that needs a bit more beef against the run.
Strength: Pass rush. Progar and Baxter are fantastic with the potential to combine for at least 12 sacks, while the tackles can get into the backfield, too.
Weakness: Solid production against the run. The defensive front got torn up early in the year and got its doors blown off by Toledo. There's enough size to do even more against the better running teams.
Outlook: This should be one of the team's biggest strengths. There's depth, a good rotation, and a nice set of starters across the front. Progar and Baxter are special, while the tackles will be a plus once Bishop gets his feet wet.
Unit Rating: 6


The linebacking corps was supposed to need a little bit of time last year, and it showed early on with rough performances against the run. Everything ended up working around leading tackler Pat Schiller in the middle, and now it'll be up to Devon Butler to take over again after sitting out all of last year recovering from a gunshot wound. Back and healthy again, he should be able to pick up the slack after starting 13 times on the inside in 2010 and earning all-star honors making 80 tackles with 4.5 sacks. At 5-10 and 232 pounds he's big, strong, and quick enough to get into the backfield as one of the team's most disruptive forces.

5-10, 225-pound sophomore Jamaal Bass ended up started ten times last year on the outside making 62 tackles with 5.5 tackles for loss. His season would've been even bigger if he wasn't suspended for three games after running over a member of the Toledo band, keeping him out for a key stretch late in the year. One of the team's most athletic linebackers, he can be used more as a pass rusher but has proven to be a big hitter and a reliable playmaker.

At 5-10 and 219 pounds, senior Tyrone Clark is an undersized option who started every game in 2010 on the weakside making 78 tackles with four picks, but he missed all of last year suspended. Now he's back and ready to roll again and should be ready to be one of the team's top all-around playmakers on the outside. Expect him to be ready to hit everything all over the field after missing so much time.

With so much drama and so many players out last year, 5-10, 210-pound sophomore Michael Santacaterina ended up filling in where needed, especially on the outside when Bass was suspended, finishing with 28 tackles with a pick and 1.5 tackles for loss. He can move and is good enough to see time on either side, while 6-0, 230-pound redshirt freshman Boomer Mays brings more size on the outside. A pass rusher with great athleticism, he should be a dangerous backup option in the rotation.

5-11, 228-pound senior Victor Jacques was a key backup last year seeing time in every game making 20 tackles, but he's mostly a special teamer. Originally a fullback, he'll give it all in the middle behind Butler, but he's limited.

Watch Out For … Butler to put up well over 100 tackles. It took a year to come back to be 100%, but he's ready to dominate on the inside and he should be a perfect fit for what the Huskie defense wants to do. He'll earn all-star honors.
Strength: Talent. The linebacking corps last year was productive, but this year's group is far better and more talented. Butler and Clark will be ready to rock after missing so much time, while Bass showed glimpses of what he could become. There's good depth to rely on if needed.
Weakness: The drop-off. The starting three is going to be really, really good, but if there's a setback in anyway there's a huge drop in production and talent from the ones to the twos. There might be depth to rely on, but Butler, Clark and Bass have to be on the field.
Outlook: The NIU coaching staff knows how to handle linebackers, and after doing a nice job of piecing things together last season it'll have a loaded group ready to roll. Butler and Clark are going to be fantastic, and Bass is a rising star who could become one of the MAC's best stat-sheet fillers.
Unit Rating: 6

Defensive Backs

The secondary struggled way too much last year, but that was partly because teams bombed away to try to keep up the pace. Leading the defensive backfield will be junior free safety Jimmie Ward, who went from being a top reserve to a leading tackler finishing second on the team with 100 stops with a pick and four broken up passes. At 5-11 and 192 pound he has decent size after being up a bit to go along with a special teamer mentality when it comes to getting to the ball. He always gives full effort and he's terrific against the run. Now he has to do more when the ball is in the air.

Sophomore Dechane Durante took over the starting strong safety job early in the season and finished with 57 tackles with four tackles for loss and three interceptions. At 6-2 and 196 pounds he's built like a big corner and he can deliver the big pop, and now his job will be to be a steadier force on pass plays. With an improved linebacking corps making more plays against the run, his job will be to focus more on doing things in the defensive backfield.

6-2, 193-pound senior Rashaan Melvin started 13 games last year finishing fourth on the team with 78 tackles with three picks and nine broken up passes. With great size and good toughness he's excellent at handling the bigger receivers, and he has just enough speed to handle the deep plays. He'll be backed up by 5-10, 174-pound junior Sean Evans, a key backup last year who made 24 tackles and broke up five passes. Speedy and versatile, he could end up being a key factor in nickel and dime packages.

A combination will be used at the other corner spot with 5-8, 174-pound junior Jhory Faustin back after started ten times last year and making 70 tackles with two picks and three broken up passes and 5-10, 203-pound senior Demetrius Stone part of the mix after starting the first half of last year at free safety. Stone is a former JUCO star who stepped in early on to make 20 tackles in 2010 and 55 last year with a pick and five broken up passes. Both players will be on the field in some way in five defensive back packages.

Junior Dominique Ware spent most of his time last year at corner, getting two starts, but he'll work mostly at free safety last year in a backup role. He made 19 tackles but didn't come up with much when the ball was in the air. Very fast, he should be all over the field when he gets his chances, while the combination of redshirt freshmen Rasheen Lemon and Tre Moore will play behind Ward at free safety. Lemon is a big 6-0, 206-pound option with tremendous speed and athleticism – he was an Illinois state champion-level sprinter – while the 5-9, 194-pound Moore is a quick prospect with good tackling ability.

Watch Out For … the corner job on the other side of Melvin. The Huskies have two veterans in Faustin and Stone who'll each get their chances to shine. Both are proven players who each need to try coming up with more production.
Strength: Experience and options. This is a versatile group that should be able to switch around roles when needed. There are enough veterans across the board to hope for more big plays and more stops.
Weakness: Consistency. The secondary came up with six picks in the final two games of last year but only took the ball away seven times in the other 12 games. The secondary got ripped up by Buffalo, Toledo and Central Michigan giving up 29 touchdowns on the year and allowing close to 3,500 yards.
Outlook: The secondary struggled throughout the season when it came to limiting yards and coming up with big plays, but with an improved pass rush and more experience to rely on the situation should be stronger. There are plenty of options for several spots with Melvin and Ward good ones to work around, but keeping teams under 250 yards on a regular basis would be nice.
Unit Rating: 5.5

Special Teams

The Huskies got a good year out of junior PK Mathew Sims, but they need him to nail everything inside the 40. He connected on 20-of-28 field goals with four of the misses coming from beyond 40 yards, but he missed four makeable short-range kicks including misfires from 22 and 33 yards away in the bowl win over Arkansas State. He has a decent leg, but it tops about at around 44 yards.

The punting game was hardly anything special, but senior Ryan Neir is a veteran who forced a whopping 36 fair catches. He only averaged 35.7 yards per kick, but his job is to hang it up high and pin teams deep with 19 kicks put inside the 20. The results showed with NIU allowing just one yard per return.

Even with WR Tommylee Lewis averaging 25.2 yards per kickoff return with two scores, the Huskies were still 100th in the nation in returns. Lewis will be fine with more work, while Perez Ashford will also get a shot. Lewis will also try to add more pup to a punt return game that struggled a bit with Tommy Davis averaging just 5.9 yards per try.

Watch Out For … Lewis. He was phenomenal as a kickoff returner, and now he should be even more electric as a punt returner.
Strength: Punt coverage. There might not be much to the NIU net punting game, but the system works. There are almost no returns with just ten allowed and almost no yardage from them. Neir does his job.
Weakness: Sims' range. Just when it seemed like he was on his way to being fantastic, he struggled against Arkansas State. It would be nice if he could rank out a 50-yard bomb now and then or else sophomore Tyler Wedel, who has a bigger leg, might get a shot.
Outlook: The special teams are going to be more than fine, and they could be fantastic if Lewis does for the punt return game what he did for the kickoff returns. Sims and Neir are veterans, while the coverage teams are among the best in the MAC.
Unit Rating: 7

- 2012 Northern Illinois Preview | 2012 Northern Illinois Offense
- 2012 Northern Illinois Defense | 2012 Northern Illinois Depth Chart