Preview 2007 - Defense
2007 NIU Offense Preview
2007 NIU Depth Chart
2006 CFN Northern
What you need to know: The NIU
defense is steady with several good, sound players, but for all
the quickness and all the athleticism, there weren't nearly
enough big plays, not enough production from the secondary, and
a good, but not great, year against the run. While the corners
will be better, expect more of the same from the front seven;
for good and bad. End Larry English and tackle Craig Rusch will
be regulars in the backfield. This won't be the nation's 90th
ranked defense again, and it'll do a good job of bending, but
Larry English, 12
Interceptions: Tim McCarthy, Melvin Rice, 2
Star of the defense: Junior DE Larry English
Player that has to step up and become a star: Sophomore
FS Spencer Williamson
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DE Brandon Bice
Best pro prospect: English
Top three all-star candidates: 1) English, 2) LB Tim
McCarthy, 3) DT Craig Rusch
Strength of the defense: Pass rush, linebacker
Weakness of the defense:
Size, major playmakers
Projected Starters: The star of the defense, and possibly
the best defensive player in the MAC, is junior end Larry English.
A 6-3, 255-pound regular in opposing backfields with 12 sacks and 16
tackles for loss last season, and 129 tackles over the last two seasons.
He bulked up and now doesn't look like a linebacker playing end; he's a
true lineman with NFL potential. Too fast for most tackles, now, if his
banged up knee is fine, he should be even more productive after two
years of experience.
With all the focus on English, it'll be up to sophomore Brandon Bice
to take advantage on the left side. Taking over for long time
producer Ken West, he was one of the stars of spring ball showing off a
flurry of pass rushing moves and decent toughness against the run. At
6-3 and 241 pounds, he's just big enough to handle himself against more
Back to add more pressure in the backfield will be 6-4, 274-pound junior
Craig Rusch, who was one of the team's unsung stars last season with
49 tackles, six sacks and 14 tackles for loss. He bulked up just enough
to do even more against the run, but his strength is as an interior pass
Next to Rusch is undersized 6-2, 258-pound nose guard Alex Krutsch,
who's really more of an end playing on the inside. He didn't hold up
last year, playing in only seven games and making just 13 tackles with a
sack. At his size, he'll have to be part of a rotation.
Projected Top Reserve: While senior Robert
Oruche won't start in place of English, he showed this spring that
he's too good to not be on the field. A good-sized 6-4, 259-pound pass
rusher, he was dominant in the spring game and should see time on both
sides. Extremely strong, he's should be able to hold up against the run.
Rotating with Krutsch on the nose is 6-5, 280-pound Adam Schroeder,
who brings 22 extra pounds on the inside. He hasn't had to become any
sort of an anchor, making 17 tackles and two sacks in nine games, but he
has has the size to become one.
Is Zack Holycross healthy? Projected to be a starter on the
inside, the 6-5, 290-pound senior was never healthy and missed the year,
and spring ball, with a shoulder problem. He's the team's biggest
lineman, and he's not bad at getting into the backfield, but he has to
get healthy first.
Watch Out For ... Bice. Oruche had the better
spring game, but Bice has more upside and will make a bigger career
impact. If he can turn into a consistent speed rusher, and teams have to
worry about him a little bit, English should go ballistic.
Strength: Getting into the backfield. With the emergence of
Oruche and Bice, it won't just be English from the outside and Rusch on
Weakness: Size on the inside. Schroeder and Holycross had better
be healthy and productive, of the line gets really small, really fast.
Outlook: The line wasn't special last season, but
it had its moments and got great pressure from the ends. As expected,
the front four built on speed and quickness got shoved around by better
running teams. Expect more of the same this year.
Projected Starters: Two of the three starters return to
the corps, with the one opening on the strongside, losing 96 tackles
from Kennan Blalark. It'll be up to 222-pound sophomore Phil Brown,
who has unlimited upside after being out with a knee injury last year.
He's a great hitter with excellent range, and now he's ready to become
one of the team's newest stars.
Up to 232 pounds, junior Tim McCarthy is bigger, and should be
better, in the middle after finishing second on the team with 111
tackles.. Able to do a little of everything well, he was good in pass
coverage and got into the backfield on a regular basis, but his main job
is to help out everyone else against the run. While he's not flashy,
he's always around the ball.
Also returning is 6-1, 214-pound sophomore Cory Hanson after
making 72 tackles. A speedy defender on the weakside, he's active and is
all over the field, but he needs to do more in pass coverage and has to
be more disruptive. Tough enough to play on the strongside, he's far
more effective in space.
Projected Top Reserve: Junior T.J. Griffin
is a former running back who has the talent to become a great defender.
At 227 pounds, he has great size and fantastic speed in the middle
behind McCarthy if Brown doesn't end up rotating in the middle.
Junior Josh Allen is a decent veteran who wasn't used nearly as
much last year as he was as a freshman, when he made 37 tackles and
three tackles for loss. He only made seven stops last season, but the
former defensive back has enough speed to be more effective as a pass
defender on the weakside.
Watch Out For ... Brown. His knee is expected to
be 100% by the start of the season, and he'll be one of the team's most
important defenders. Able to play inside or out, his talent and
versatility allows the corps to be flexible.
Strength: Quickness. The corps is built to fly around the ball
and swarm, and there will be plenty of chances for everyone to come up
with some big stats. The line will be used to get to the quarterback;
the linebackers will be used to clean everything up.
Weakness: Big plays. Considering the overall athleticism in the
corps, there has to be more big things happening. It's a solid group
that has to be disruptive.
Outlook: There hasn't been a lot of flash to the
linebacking corps over the last few years, but that could change just a
little bit if Brown and Hanson are turned loose on the outside. There's
decent depth, and having a solid veteran in the middle in McCarthy gives
the corps a rock to revolve around.
Projected Starters: The secondary was awful last season,
but there appears to be a chance for a big change thanks to the expected
emergence of junior Melvin Rice as a major player. He made 47
tackles, two interceptions and broke up three passes, but he struggled.
A different player this spring, he was more physical and more active.
Expect a more confident cover-corner who could turn into a top MAC
On the other side will be junior Bradley Pruitt after making 48
tackles and breaking up three passes. At 6-1 and 195 pounds, he's big
and physical, but he has to do more when the ball is in the air. After
playing extremely well this spring, he appears to have turned a corner
and should be more productive.
Mark Reiter will need to be one of the team's top tacklers again
as the one returning safety starter. He's not going to make too many big
plays, and he's not a huge hitting strong safety, but he's solid.
Finishing fourth on the team with 77 tackles with an interception last
year, it'll be his job to use his experience to be more of a difference
maker. If not, he's not so good that he can't be knocked out of a
The biggest hole on the defense is at free safety with the loss of
leading tackler Dustin Utschig. 6-2, 208-pound sophomore Spencer
Williamson will get the first crack at the job, but he could end up
moving over to strong safety with far more speed, strength, and talent
than Reiter. He made 16 tackles last year as a reserve, and he should
shine with more responsibility.
Projected Top Reserve: The battle is on for the
starting safety spots, even through Reiter and Williamson will probably
start the season. Redshirt freshman Alex Kube was all over the
place making tackles in the spring game, standing out just enough to get
a shot at the free safety job in fall practices. A pure playmaker, he'll
end up finding a spot somewhere.
Sophomore Jeff Fontana started out his career as a strong safety
option, but he's fast and athletic with enough range to step in at free
safety if needed. He'll start out behind Reiter after making 11 tackles
as a reserve, and he'll push extremely hard for the starting job.
Watch Out For ... the safety jobs to be up in the
air until the last moment. Williamson has too much upside not to be
given a starting shot, but Reiter, even with all his experience, is
Strength: Cornerbacks. A weakness last year when Rice and Pruitt
struggled way too much and didn't look like they knew what they were
doing at times, now the light appears to have gone on.
Weakness: Interceptions. The Huskies picked off just seven
passes with linebacker Tim McCarthy getting two of them. The corners
might be better, and the safeties will be good, but they need to start
being better ball hawkers.
Outlook: NIU has gotten beaten deep over the last
few years and was 11th in the MAC in both pass defense and pass
efficiency defense. This is a more mature, readier secondary that should
be far better. There's depth, options at safety, and emerging stars at
corner. It all has to add up.
Projected Starters: Senior Chris Nendick is one of
the nation's best placekickers connecting on 20 of 27 field goals with
four of his missed coming from beyond 40 yards. While he didn't show off
much in the way of range last year, he has a deep leg that can connect
from 50 yards, even though his biggest shot came from 44. The punting
game is more of an issue with junior Andy Dittbenner a weak link
over the last two years. While he's good at putting the ball inside the
20, pinning 30 career kicks deep, but he hasn't aired it out with a mere
37.9-yard average last season.
Watch Out For ... Greg Turner. The receiver will
get more recognition this year as a top punt returner after averaging
12.2 yards per try. Marcus Perez can also return punts, but Turner will
Strength: Nendick inside the 40. He'll get a few more chances to
try out some deep bombs next year, but he's as reliable as they come
Weakness: Punting and kickoff returns. DIttmenner needs to start
showing off a bigger leg, while Marcus Perez and Britt Davis have to do
more for the kick return game. The Huskies were last in the MAC, and
114th in the nation, averaging 17.33 yards per return.
Outlook: The accuracy from the kicking game is
there, and now there have to be some bigger kicks and better coverage
all the way around. There's no reason for the Huskies to not do more on
kickoff returns, while Turner and Perez will make the punt return game a