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2008 Northern Illinois Preview - Offense
Northern Ilinois RB Justin Anderson
Northern Ilinois RB Justin Anderson
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted May 9, 2008


CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - Northern Illinois Husky Offense

Northern Illinois Huskies

Preview 2008 - Offense


- 2008 Northern Illinois Preview | 2008 NIU Offense
- 2008 NIU Defense | 2008 NIU Depth Chart
- 2007 CFN NIU Preview | 2006 CFN NIU Preview 

What you need to know: The offense isn't going to change up too much right away under offensive coordinator Matt Linegrover, but that's only because of the personnel. If Dan Nicholson is at quarterback, there will be an attempt at balance with a big passing game to go along with Justin Anderson and the ground game. However, the coaching staff wants to run the spread and get the quarterback moving, and that's where redshirt freshman Chandler Harnish and DeMarcus Grady could step in and take over. The line struggled in run blocking last year, but it should be far better with four good starters, led by RT Jon Brost and C Eddie Adamski, and good depth. Britt Davis and Matt Simon will be two strong, veteran receivers once their shoulders heal up.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Dan Nicholson
151-238, 1,633 yds, 9 TD, 14 INT
Rushing: Justin Anderson
274 carries, 1,245 yds, 8 TD
Receiving: Matt Simon
52 catches, 969 yds, 5 TD

Star of the offense: Junior RB Justin Anderson
Player that has to step up and become a star: Senior QB Dan Nicholson
Unsung star on the rise: Redshirt freshman OT Adam Kiel
Best pro prospect: Junior OT Jon Brost
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Anderson, 2) Brost, 3)
C Eddie Adamski
Strength of the offense: Experience, offensive line
Weakness of the offense:
Quarterback

Quarterbacks

Projected Starter: While he'll have to earn his job back under the new coaching staff, senior Dan Nicholson
is a veteran who can bridge the gap between where the program was and where it needs to be. The 6-2, 192-pound Nicholson struggled throwing for 1,633 yards with nine touchdown passes and 14 interceptions, but he didn't get a whole bunch of help with all the injuries on both sides of the ball. Without the mobility the new coaches would like to have a rushing threat under center, Nicholson has to be far more consistent and far more accurate once he gets back healthy this fall from a shoulder injury.

Projected Top Reserve: 6-2, 199-pound junior Ryan Morris is a former walk-on with enough experience to step in if needed. He has been a good scout teamer, but he struggled when he was thrown into the mix completing 53% of his throws for 727 yards and four touchdowns and five interceptions. He doesn't have a big arm and he's not a runner.

Most impressive this spring was 6-3, 211-pound redshirt freshman Chandler Harnish. While he doesn't have any experience, and will have to keep battling to be in the hunt for the starting job, he showed a shocking command of the offense and played like a seasoned veteran until a lousy spring game performance. Extremely athletic, he can do a little bit of everything well. He could be too good not to see time early on.

A fourth option in the race to start the off-season, the 6-1, 196-pound redshirt freshman DeMarcus Grady has the athleticism and running ability to add the extra dimension to the attack the coaching staff is looking for. He tore off a long touchdown run in the spring game showing flash and speed to demand a few plays here and there to keep defenses on their toes.

Watch Out For ... a quarterback controversy all summer. If spring ball didn't cloud the issue enough, true freshman Brandon Rogers will be part of the debate when he gets to school. The new coaching staff might go with a few different options, or it might go in a new direction to start a new era.
Strength
:
Options. At the very least, the offense can go in several different directions. There can be situational changes, like possibly bringing in Grady from time to time if a pure passer like Nicholson is the starter. There could be some juggling as the season goes on.
Weakness
:
Production. Nicholson showed immense promise as a freshman, and that has been it. Morris is a backup; that's it. Harnish and Grady are interesting prospects, but they're redshirt freshman. In other words, there isn't a sure thing in the bunch.
Outlook: The first really big task of the new coaching staff is to figure out a pecking order among the quarterbacks. The job is there for the taking if Nicholson isn't sharp after coming back from his shoulder problem. Harnish and Grady will see time in some way, and if one of them steps up his game this summer, they might be the opening day starter.
Rating: 6


Running Backs

Projected Starters: 5-11, 222-pound unior Justin Anderson became the next great NIU tailback with a stunning 1,245-yard, eight touchdown season showing a great combination of power and speed. The former defensive back needs a little seasoning a few years ago, and now he's on the verge of being truly special. The rest of the offense struggled, but with five straight 100-yard performances, and a 39-carry, 140-yard day at Navy, Anderson did all he could. Now only was he a workhorse, but he also finished second on the team in receptions with 45 grabs for 263 yards and three scores. He suffered a knee injury in the season finale, but he's fine.

Projected Top Reserve: With Anderson hurting, senior Montell Clanton will be counted on more after running just 26 times for 140 yards and catching four passes for 25 yards before suffering a torn ACL in the second game of the year. A quick 5-9, 185-pound speedster, he can be used in a variety of ways, primarily on the outside, to get him on the move.

5-10, 189-pound sophomore Chad Spann
has superior speed and could be the team's best athlete. He got a little work last year with 61 yards on 11 carries, and now he'll be even more a part of the attack with too much home run hitting potential to not get the ball more often.

Sophomore David Bryant moved over from linebacker to running back and finished second on the team with 245 yards on 29 carries. A tough runner for a 5-10, 202-pounder, he can work inside or out and will be part of the rotation, especially in garbage time.


Watch Out For ... yet another 1,000-yard runner. NIU has gone nine straight seasons with one, and as long as Anderson stays healthy, it'll be ten in a row. However, there's a chance his workload could diminish with so many good options to play around with.
Strength
:
Options. The Huskies have Anderson, who's a sure-thing when healthy, but after a good spring, they also know they can count on Spann and Bryant to handle more of the workload. If Clanton can stay healthy, he'll be a key piece of the puzzle.
Weakness
:
Can Anderson stay healthy? If not, the running game will have to rely on Bryant for power, and he might not necessarily be the ideal workhorse back. There will be a fullback involved from time to time, and the coaching staff might try to create a short yardage runner to help out Anderson.
Outlook: With all the good, quick backs, and with more rushing production expected from at least one of the quarterback options, there's a chance the Huskies could hit the 2,000-yard mark after gaining 1,626 yards last season. Anderson is a workhorse to revolve the entire offense around, and now he won't have to handle the ball 319 times with more options to spread the wealth around. Clanton could become a dangerous back when he's healthy, while Spann and Bryant can handle carrying the ground game from time to time.
Rating: 7.5

Receivers

Projected Starters: Senior Britt Davis is one of the team leaders and a reliable target over the last three seasons with 132 career catches for 1,563 yards and eight touchdowns. The 6-2, 205-pound former star quarterback has excellent speed and quickness with precise route running ability and great hands. He missed time last year hurt causing him to finish third on the team in receiving, and he never had a big breakout game. While he's not necessarily a scorer, he's as reliable as they come on big passes.

Senior Matt Simon was one of the few players able to stay healthy for most of the season, and he came through big-time catching 52 passes for 969 yards and five touchdowns averaging 18.6 yards per grab
. He has good 6-2, 205-pound size and good deep speed highlighted by a 92-yard touchdown against Central Michigan. He has had injury issues in the past with a broken ankle a few years ago, and now he's coming off shoulder surgery that kept him out of spring ball.

Working in the three-wide set at the V will be 6-0, 190-pound senior Greg Turner, who finished fourth on the team with 21 catches for 222 yards and a touchdown. Mostly a possession receiver, he's a good route runner and a trusted veteran when healthy. He started off the season well, got banged up, and wasn't right the rest of the way.

O6-4, 250-pound junior Reed Cunningham will take over at tight end after an injury plagued season. He played seven games and caught 18 passes for 166 yards and a touchdown, and while he'll be a regular part of the passing game, he'll also be a key blocker.

Projected Top Reserves: Marcus Perez has the talent to be a starter and the experience to be a vital part of the attack, but he has to get healthy again after suffering a shoulder injury. He only played in five games and made eight catches for 89 yards, and when he's back the 5-11, 180-pounder will play behind Davis at the X.

Ready to make more of an impact will be sophomore Landon Cox, a 6-3, 203-pound presence on the inside. He only made two catches in 19 games, but he has the size to be a factor behind Simon at the Z.

The biggest head turner this spring was freshman Chase Mejia who was one of the first recruits of the Kill era and was able to get to school early to show what he could do. He's only 5-8 and 10 pounds, but he's a quick target with good hands. He can also grow into a role as a kick and punt returner.

Filling in when injuries struck at tight end was sophomore Bryan Beckner. The 6-4, 255-pounder only caught one pass for nine yards and was used mostly as a blocker. While he'll have to fight to get playing time, at least he's now experienced.

Watch Out For ... Mejia. While he's not going to be a number one target, he showed that he deserves playing time right away with an impressive off-season. He has all the makings of a dangerous inside receiver who could eventually become a key playmaker as the year wears on.
Strength
:
Experience. Once everyone is healthy, NIU will have three strong veterans in Davis, Simon and Perez to work with. Throw in Turner and the Huskies have a reliable corps that can do a little of everything well.
Weakness
:
Tight end. Beckner isn't a receiving option, David Koronkiewicz is hurt, and Cunningham is a nice target, but isn't going to scare anyone. The tight ends will be fine, but nothing special.
Outlook: The corps came through with a decent season even when everything was collapsing. Simon turned into a surprising deep ball playmaker and Davis, Turner and Cunningham had solid years. Including running back Justin Anderson, six of the top seven pass catchers return and they can all play. This won't be the MAC's best group of receivers, but it'll be among the most reliable.
Rating: 6

Offensive Linemen

Projected Starters: The one big hole to fill is at left tackle where redshirt freshman Trevor Olson will take over for Chris Acevedo. At 6-6 and 278 pounds, Olson isn't a huge blocker, and he'll have to fight to hold on to the job coming out of spring ball, but he's quick and talented. The former high school hockey player can move.

Olson will he helped by having 6-6, 330-pound junior Kevin Skatrud at left guard. It took just a few games for Skatrud to take over the starting job, and he was a solid producer the rest of the year turning into a big run blocker. One of the team's biggest players, he's also a decent pass blocker.

Junior Eddie Adamski is the leader of the line and one of the team's better offensive players. At 6-5 and 304 pounds, he's big for a MAC center with good technique and excellent athleticism. He's great at heading up the line and should be in for all-star honors.

Adamski might be the leader of the front five, but junior Jon Brost is the rock. The 6-6, 303-pound right tackle has 35 starts under his belt and he turned into the team's best lineman last year. It took a little bit, but ha has grown into an excellent pass blocker who almost never gets beaten for a sack. He's also a smart, tough blocker for the running game. He never makes a mistake.

Returning again at right guard is 6-2, 320-pound junior Jason Onyebuagu, a good run blocker who came through as a reliable 12-game starter. He had injury problems last year with a leg issue, but he still played almost every snap of every game and god better and better as the year went on. Versatile, he can play center if needed. He even caught a deflected pass against Eastern Michigan that turned out to be a critical drive saver in the win.


Projected Top Reserves: Pushing extremely hard for the starting left tackle job is 6-6, 295-pound redshirt freshman Adam Kiel. After bulking up over the last year, 2007's big recruit is looking like the real deal as a former high school tight end has kept his athleticism. Sooner than later he'll be a key piece of the line's puzzle.

Able to fill in and start at either guard spot is 6-4, 312-pound junior Tim Mayerbock. A starter for four games last year, he has the size and has been good for the ground game, but he's average in pass protection. He was never right after getting hurt early on, and while he played over the second half of the year, he gave way to Skatrud at left guard.

Watch Out For ... Kiel. Olson has the left tackle job coming out of spring ball, but it's Kiel who has the next level upside and the potential to be special.
Strength
:
Experience. The combination of young players and injury problems last year means this season's front five is loaded with veterans. Having four starters back is a plus, but there's good depth and the one open spot, left tackle, could turn out to be the front five's best spot.
Weakness
:
Run blocking?! Northern Illinois? The line should be better at plowing open holes, but it struggled to do it on a consistent basis last year even though Anderson had a huge season. There's no reason this group can't pave the way for more than 136 yards per game.
Outlook: The Huskie line has been given the benefit of the doubt on reputation over the past two seasons, but now it should be on its way to being a major factor again. With four starter returning, a slew of depth, and big-time talents in Olson and Kiel at left tackle, there's reason to be excited.
Rating: 6