2013 Northern Illinois Preview – Defense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - Northern Illinois Huskie Defense
Preview 2013 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: The defense was okay two years ago on the way to the MAC title. Last year it was fantastic considering opposing offenses had to bomb away to try to keep up the pace. Now there's a little bit of work to do on the front seven after losing five starters, but there's athleticism and pass rushing options to try replacing terrors Sean Progar and Alan Baxter up front. The secondary is by far the biggest strength with three starters returning along with excellent depth. It'll be an attacking D that comes up with its share of big plays, but overall there will be a step back.
Star of the defense: Senior S Jimmie Ward
Tackles: Jimmie Ward, 104
Sacks: Joe Windsor, 7
Interceptions: Jimmie Ward, 3
Player who has to step up and be a star: Senior DE George Rainey
Unsung star on the rise: Senior DE Joe Windsor
Best pro prospect: Ward
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Ward, 2) LB Jamaal Bass, 3) CB Marlon Moore
Strength of the defense: Secondary, Athleticism
Weakness of the defense: Front Seven Experience, Depth
The defensive front didn't get nearly enough credit or publicity after destroying backfields throughout last year, but Alan Baxter and Sean Progar are both gone and senior Ken Bishop is the lone returning starter after coming up with 55 tackles with two sacks and nine tackles for loss. The former JUCO transfer turned into exactly what NIU needed as an interior pass rusher with 6-1, 308-pound size to gum up the works in the interior. He'll work in a rotation with 6-2, 308-pound redshirt freshman Corey Thomas, a big run stopper who can work on the nose if needed.
6-0, 275-pound junior Donovan Gordon saw time in every game last season finishing with21 tackles with a sack and 2.5 tackles for loss, and now he has the nose to handle in a full-time role. Undersized, he's quick off the ball and can get behind the line, but he's going to have to hold up in a rotation with 6-1, 300-pound senior Zach Anderson, a beefier option who made six tackles in his limited time.
6-2, 222-pound senior George Rainey made his presence felt as a key backup making 26 tackles with 2.5 sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss, doing his most damage in the MAC title game against Kent State. Quick off the ball, he has the potential to blow up now that he has a full-time job at one end.
Also filling the void as the new star pass rusher is senior Joe Windsor, a 6-0, 236-pound athlete who did his part making 36 tackles with seven tackles with 10.5 tackles for loss, dominating Iowa in the opener and coming up with two sacks against Kansas. He got banged up and lost out on playing time, but he's a good veteran who knows what he's doing. Backing him up is 6-1, 241-pound junior Jason Meehan, a nice career backup who made 19 tackles last season showing the ability to hold up against the run when needed.
Watch Out For … sophomore Perez Ford, a former running back who doesn't have the size at just 6-0 and 218 pounds, but has the raw speed. One of the team's fastest players, he could quickly turn into a devastating pass rushing specialist.
Strength: Quickness. Everyone on the NIU defensive front can get into the backfield and everyone can make a play. It might hurt to lose so much talent, but there are athletes ready to fill in.
Weakness: Sean Progar and Alan Baxter. The stats might be replaced, but it's going to be a fight to replace everything the two veterans provided for the defense. They were the tone-setters who found ways to change games by themselves.
Outlook: It might take a little bit, but the line will be fine. The run defense might struggle against the power teams, but Windsor is a producer on one side and Rainey should be solid on the other. The Huskies aren't going to finish 14th in the nation in tackles for loss and 17th in sacks, but they might not be too drastically far off if all the athletes can come through as hoped for.
Unit Rating: 5
5-10, 225-pound junior Jamaal Bass took over a starting job two years ago and finished with 62 tackles on the outside. Showing a good burst and timing, he became a nice playmaker in the backfield. Last year, he took his game to another level with 83 tackles to go along with a pick and six tackles for loss. One of the team's most athletic linebackers, he's also a huge hitter and a tone-setter. He's the veteran of the bunch and has to be consistent until 5-10, 210-pound junior Michael Santacaterina gets his feet wet on the other side. He started twice finishing with 28 tackles, able to move around wherever needed and produce. Taking over a starting job, he has good speed and range, moving around like a defensive back.
Taking over for Victor Jacques in the middle is sophomore Boomer Mays, a good-sized 6-0, 230-pound run stopper with the speed to play on the outside and the strength to hold up in the middle. He got four starts in the middle and did a nice job making 47 tackles, but he has to prove he can hold up on a regular basis with his physical style getting him banged up. 6-1, 225-pound junior Ryan Gorrell has to be at the ready to step in on the inside. A special teamer so far, he has good enough range to put up nice numbers if he gets the shot.
Watch Out For … Santacaterina. While he's too small, he has an intriguing set of tools with the ability to put up big stats if he's shot out of a cannon into the backfield. A speedster, he could turn into a whale of a specialist.
Strength: Quickness. Everyone can move and everyone has range. The linebacking corps was built on athleticism more than pure tackling ability, and while hitting won't be a problem, swarming around the ball will be the key. The pressure into the backfield will come from all three spots.
Weakness: Experience. Last year's linebacking corps was full of talent and experience, and while this year's version isn't starting from scratch, it won't be nearly as strong. The depth needs work.
Outlook: NIU knows what to do with linebackers and knows how to make them shine within the defensive scheme, but there's going to be a little bit of work to do. Bass will do a nice job and Mays will be a leading tackler as long as he can hold up. It'll be a steady group that grows into their jobs.
Unit Rating: 5.5
Helped by the phenomenal pass rush, the secondary did a decent job finishing 13th in the nation in pass efficiency defense. Three of the four starters return led by veteran safety Jimmie Ward, a free safety who'll move over to strong safety for his senior season. The leading tackler over the last few years, he followed up a 100-stop season with 104 tackles with a team-leading three picks and 11 broken up passes. A playmaker who's always all over the field, the 5-11, 192-pounder always brings the full effort and is terrific against the run making 14 stops against Florida State and coming up with double-digit tackle seven times. Expect more of the same.
With Ward moving over, 6-2, 196-pound junior Dechane Durante will step in at free safety after starting last season playing strong safety. Banged up over the second half of the year, he only made 38 tackles with a pick, but now that he's back he should be a leading tackler after making 57 tackles with three interceptions two years ago. Built like a big corner, he can deliver the big pop and should shine no matter what position he plays. He'll combine forces with senior Dominique Ware, a former corner who can play anywhere in the secondary. Extremely fast, he was all over the field making 29 tackles as a reserve with a start against UMass.
Sophomore Marlon Moore did a terrific job at corner after taking over the starting spot halfway through his freshman season and finishing with 39 tackles with two picks and four broken up passes. At 5-9 and 180 pounds he's not all that big, but he's incredibly quick and cuts on a dime. He'll be backed up by senior Jhony Faustin, a seasoned veteran who made 70 tackles with two picks two years ago and came up with 23 stops last season. At 5-8 and 174 pounds, he's smallish and thin, but he has seen enough time to step in at any one of several spots. Senior Sean Evans will get a long look at the lone open starting spot in the secondary, taking over a corner job after making 24 tackles with a pick and seven broken up passes in a reserve role. At 5-10 and 174 pounds, he has decent size and can see time as a nickel or dime defender if he doesn't stay at corner.
Watch Out For … Aregeros Turner. The true freshman could turn out to be a speedy receiver or quick running back prospect, but he projects to be a terrific corner with great hands and nice speed. The 5-11, 170-pounder could be a shutdown defensive back with a little bit of time.
Strength: Starting experience. This was a veteran secondary last season, and now it's really experienced with three returning starters and developed depth to provide options for different packages and for all four spots.
Weakness: Good quarterbacks. The Huskies stopped Iowa, but everyone did. The secondary was lit up by Central Michigan, Ball State, Toledo and Florida State, struggling to come up with big plays against any of the decent passing teams. The overall stats are great because there weren't that many star quarterbacks on the slate.
Outlook: The pass rush helped, but the secondary did a nice job on its own coming up with 15 picks and allowing just 11 touchdown passes. This year's defensive backfield should be terrific helped mostly by the return of Ward and the emergence of Moore. This should be one of the MAC's best secondaries.
Unit Rating: 6
Back after a big year is junior Mathew Sims, who nailed 15-of-19 kicks showing off a great leg connecting on 7-of-9 shots from beyond 40 yards including a 54-yarder against Western Michigan. While he whiffed on a couple of chippies, he's a weapon who should be in for an all-star season. Also returning is Tyler Wedel, who handled kickoff returns and now will take over the punting duties. Ryan Nier averaged just 38.1 yards per kick, but he put 24 inside the 20. Wedel has a bigger leg.
Receiver Tommylee Lewis had a huge year averaging 24.5 yards per kickoff return with a touchdown against Eastern Michigan. Fellow receiver Angelo Sebastiano was average on punt returns averaging 6.3 yards per try.
Watch Out For … Josh Brebant. The true freshman dual-threat kicker is a terrific prospect who could take over the punting game sooner than later. He has a nice leg and could become a placekicker, but he's a better punting option who'll get his chances this fall.
Strength: The coverage teams. The special teams were strong overall, especially Lewis as a kick returner, but the coverage teams were truly special allowing a mere 17.1 yards per kickoff return and two yards per punt return. They were rock-solid sound.
Weakness: Punt returns. They weren't bad averaging 8.2 yards per try, but they weren't special. Sebastiano needs to show better pop and there could be more big plays overall.
Outlook: The special teams turned into a major plus, and as long as the punting game comes around, they should be terrific once again. Sims is a special kicker with great range, and Lewis is an all-star caliber kick returner.
Unit Rating: 8
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2013 Northern Illinois Defense |
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