2007 Northern Illinois Preview - Offense

Posted Jul 17, 2007

Preview 2007 Northern Illinois Huskie Offense

Northern Illinois Huskies

Preview 2007 - Offense

- 2007 Northern Illinois Preview | 2007 NIU Defense Preview
2007 NIU Depth Chart | 2006 CFN Northern Illinois Preview 

What you need to know: New offensive coordinator Roy Wittke will put his stamp on the attack early on with more passing plays, more variety, and more funky motions and formations. That'll all mean more from the passing game, and while it wasn't ignored last year, it was mostly used when Garrett Wolfe was either tired or shut down. Six starters return, but this is still a young group with only two seniors on the depth chart. The line was a problem this spring, but it's very big with the potential to be great ... next year. There will be a steady rotation of backs, led mostly by Montell Clanton and Justin Anderson, and more passes spread around, with Britt Davis the number one target. Dan Nicholson has to be a steady leader of the show.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Dan Nicholson
60-115, 648 yds, 6 TD, 5 INT
Rushing: Cas Prime
35 carries, 142 yds, 0 TD
Receiving: Britt Davis
57 catches, 731 yds, 3 TD

Star of the offense: Junior WR Britt Davis
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior QB Dan Nicholson
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore OG Jason Onyebuagu
Best pro prospect: Senior TE Brandon Davis
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Britt Davis, 2) C Eddie Adamski, 3) Brandon Davis
Strength of the offense: Size, receiver and running back depth
Weakness of the offense:
Offensive line consistency, backup quarterback


Projected Starter: Junior Dan Nicholson came out of nowhere to throw for 831 yards and six touchdowns with two interceptions down the stretch of the 2005 season, but when it was time to take over for Phil Horvath last year, he struggled. Deadly accurate as a freshman, he completed just 52% of his passes as a sophomore for 648 yards and five touchdowns with six interceptions over the final four games of the season. He's not mobile and he doesn't have a cannon for an arm, but he's a veteran who knows the offense and should put up decent numbers. It'll be his job to spread it around and keep everyone involved.

Projected Top Reserve: 6-2, 203-pound Ryan Morris got in a few games last year, but spent most of his time handing off. The former walk-on has been a good scout teamer with good size and a decent enough arm to keep the offense moving. However, if he's the starter for any appreciable stretch of time, there will be big problems.

Watch Out For ... Nicholson to play more like he did as a freshman. He'll throw interceptions, but he'll also bomb away a bit more. He'll have more responsibility, and he'll come through.
Nicholson's experience. With such a young offense, it needs someone who has been around. While Nicholson hasn't been a starter for a full season, he's been in enough big games to be a leader.
The backup. Morris is a question mark and there isn't a sure-thing number three ready to challenge for more time. While he's a strong player and a decent athlete, the offense will go back to being all about the ground game if he's in.
Outlook: The quarterbacks will get more work this year and will have to do more than just make a few plays here and there. That means Nicholson should get into more of a rhythm and should be more of a factor. As he goes, so goes the offense.
Rating: 6

Running Backs

Projected Starters: The race to replace Garrett Wolfe is wide open, but for now, junior Montell Clanton has the inside edge. At 5-9 and 185 pounds, he's a smallish, quick back who can make plays happen from out of nowhere. Out of the mix after getting 93 yards in an early blowout against Buffalo, he has plenty of tread on the tires and will be ready to go right off the bat.

Projected Top Reserve: Clanton might be first on the depth chart, but 5-11, 218-pound Justin Anderson was the best looking runner in spring ball, especially the spring game. He ran for 117 yards and a touchdown in a limited role last season. The former running back has speed, size, and now, he looks like a true running back.

5-10, 202-pound sophomore David Bryant spent last year at linebacker making ten tackles, but now he'll be in the rotation at running back. More quick than fast, he's a tough runner who could be good for a few carries a game.

Senior Cas Prime is big, strong, and a possible number one option, but he can't stay healthy. He missed spring ball, and was out earlier in his career with a knee injury, after finishing second on the team with 142 yards. A pure between-the-tackles runner, there won't be any movement when he's powering the ball.

Watch Out For ... someone to emerge as a star. Who's that going to be? Well, uh, tune in later this fall, but with NIU's recent track record of cranking out great backs (Garrett Wolfe, Michael Turner, Thomas Hammock), the odds are good that someone is about to explode.
A rotation. NIU had 443 carries last year with Wolfe getting 309 of them. Now it won't likely just be a one-man gang. There will be a variety of players getting a little work, and a variety of looks.
A number one. Fine, so you can't have it both ways and be happy about a variety, and then want a lead back to carry the load, but there isn't anyone who's stepped up and demanded to be a 25-carry game.
Outlook: All the backs combined won't hit the 1,928 yards and 18 touchdowns of Wolfe, but that's partly because the offense will throw a bit more. Between Clanton, Anderson, Bryant, Prime, and maybe, freshman Ricky Crider, there will be production. Even with more emphasis on the passing game, with this group of running backs, the Huskies will still finish in the top three rushing teams in the league.
Rating: 6


Projected Starters: The one sure-thing in the receiving corps is 6-2, 205-pound junior Britt Davis. He led the team with 57 catches for 731 yards and three touchdowns, and he came on over the second half of the season before being shut out against TCU. The former star quarterback has excellent speed and quickness, and was once called by head coach Joe Novak as "one of the best receivers he's ever had."

Junior Matt Simon returned from a broken ankle to finish with 20 catches for 314 yards and a touchdown with an excellent 15.7 yards per catch. He wasn't used more than a fourth receiver, but he stepped up this spring and should potentially become the number two target with a few games here and there when he becomes the main man.

Junior Greg Turner only made five catches for 59 yards and a touchdown, and isn't likely to be more than a possession receiver. He's a good route runner who's job will be to make all the plays underneath while Davis and Simon stretch the field.

Senior Brandon Davis stepped up when Jake Norden went down and finished with 23 catches for 243 yards and two touchdowns. With decent hands and 6-4, 268-pound size, he can do a little bit of everything and will be used even more this year. With his size, he's a tough blocker.

Projected Top Reserves: Marcus Perez will most likely be a starter somewhere, but for now, he'll backup Davis. The 5-11, 180-pound junior was second on the team with 30 catches for 405 yards and a team-leading five touchdowns, and adds a speed element missing from parts of the corps. His issue is consistency after disappearing for stretches over the second half of last year.

Waiting to break out is sophomore Marcus Lewis, who'll start out playing behind Simon, but could quickly find his way into a starting job. He's a tremendous athlete with the 6-2, 208-pound size to pose matchup problems for smaller corners. In time, he could become dangerous.

6-3, 244-pound junior Brandon Beal will be the main backup at tight end behind Davis. While he's smaller, and doesn't have the same all-around skills as Davis, he's tough, a willing blocker, and good enough to make things happen in two tight end sets. First he has to return from a knee injury that kept him out of spring ball.

Watch Out For ... wide receiver by committee. You've heard of running back by committee. The same idea will apply to the NIU receiving corps that'll have several players involved throughout the year.
Options. While there aren't many obvious stars in the corps, everyone appears just good enough to come up with a big day here and there. Davis is the number one receiver, and everyone else will be able to take advantage of their matchups.
Deep receiver. If Davis, Simon or Perez aren't hitting home runs, or at least making defenses think they're going to hit home runs, the corps won't seem that dangerous. Someone has to show right off the bat that he can be a 62-yard touchdown waiting to happen.
Outlook: The production will be better than the players. The passing game will get more work than last year, when was mainly used when the running game was shut down, and now several Huskies will get involved to allow the coaching staff to spread the work around. This will be one of the MAC's more efficient corps, but it won't be anything special.
Rating: 6

Offensive Linemen

Projected Starters: The Huskie line has been a strength over the last several years, and now it should be fine. Eventually. First, the gaping hole left by star Doug Free at left tackle has to be filled. First up will likely be senior Chris Acevedo, a 6-5, 304-pound veteran who started out his career as a backup tackle, moved to guard, and now will play tackle again. While he's a bit more of a natural guard, he's athletic for his size. As the only senior on the line, he has to be a leader.

Next to him, taking over the vacant left guard spot, will be sophomore Tim Mayerback, a promising 6-4, 311-pound sophomore who has the size, but he has to prove he can consistently pass protect. The same goes for 6-2, 314-pound sophomore Jason Onyebuagu, a big pile mover who should open up mile-wide holes for the running game, but has to prove he can be counted on against quicker interior pass rushers, and he has to be healthy after missing time this spring with a leg injury.

There aren't any concerns at center, where 6-2, 286-pound sophomore Eddie Adamski is set for an all-star season. He bulked up over the last year, but didn't lose his athleticism. He's a strong leader and great on the move.

If Acevedo doesn't take over Free's spot, it'll be 6-6, 303-pound junior Jon Brost filling in, More likely, Brost will start again at right tackle after struggling a little bit. A promising freshman who appeared ready to be a star, he wasn't a rock in pass protection. Even so, he's a great talent with good technique, but he has to progress.

Projected Top Reserves: Sophomore Tony Holmes has the size, but now he needs more time and more seasoning. At 6-6 and 330 pounds, he's an imposing figure on the left side with a chance to replace Free. He'll start out behind Acevedo, but he could move to guard to use his athleticism and size.

Sophomore Kevin Skatrud was one of the team's biggest players last year, and now he's even bigger at 6-6 and 330 pounds. A tough, physical blocker, he'll play behind Mayerbock at left guard.

Watch Out For ... more needing to be done in pass protection. Last year the line had to block for Garrett Wolfe, and then block for Garrett Wolfe again. When that didn't work, then it had to pass protect. Now the offense should be more balanced, and the line will have to be more versatile.
Size. It's huge. Really huge. It was big last year, and now the addition of Mayerbock, Skatrud, Holmes, and Onyebuagu make it positively massive. Bringing the beef for the ground game won't be a problem.
Veteran guards. Mayerbock and Onyebuagu are huge, and will grow into their roles over the next three years, but they'll need time.
Outlook: The line wasn't nearly as good as it should've been last year, and now it loses its best player, Free. Making things worse, the line was a weakness in spring ball. The tackles will be good, Adamski will be great in the middle, and the guards will eventually be a major strength. It might not be until 2008, but they'll someday be all-stars. More depth would be nice, but NIU always finds blockers to fill in the gaps.
Rating: 6


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2007 Northern Illinois Preview
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2007 Northern Illinois Preview - Defense
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2007 Northern Illinois Preview - Depth Chart
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