Preview 2009 - Defense
2009 NIU Offense
2009 NIU Defense
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2006 NIU Preview
What you need to know: After getting
decimated by injuries two years ago, the defense stayed healthy
and was night-and-day better finishing first in the MAC in total
defense, scoring defense, and pass defense. However, the D broke
down and struggled against the good offenses, getting ripped up
by Ball State and Central Michigan in back-to-back games. This
year, there's some rebuilding to be done, but it could be a
situation of taking a step back to take a giant leap forward.
The starting 11 will be great, and while there's a ton of
promise among the reserves, there isn't much in the way of
experience anywhere. The safeties will be among the best in the
MAC, while the starting linebacking trio of Cory Hanson, Pat
Schiller, and Alex Kube could be special. The biggest question
is on the end where Larry English is gone and Brandon Bice has
to be the new star. If the pass rush isn't as good as it was
last year, the secondary that was so strong will struggle with
new starting corners being broken in.
Star of the defense:
Senior DE Brandon Bice
David Bryant, 83
Brandon Bice, 6.5
Interceptions: Patrick George, Cory Hanson, Pat Schiller, 1
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior DE
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore SS Tracy Wilson
Best pro prospect: Bice
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Bice, 2) FS David
Bryant, 3) Alex Kube
Strength of the defense: Safety, Quickness
Weakness of the defense: Size, Veteran Depth
Forget about replacing Larry English. First-round draft picks
don't hang out on the NIU D line every year. However, junior
Jake Coffman isn't a bad player being thrown
into a starting role. The 6-5, 245-pound sophomore came up with
a nice first year making 22 tackles with two sacks in the
rotation. While nowhere near as quick as English (who is?), he
has good athleticism and the size to be strong against the run.
With English gone, the focus now goes on senior
Brandon Bice, an All-MAC performer who'll be the new
star of the line making 22 tackles with 6.5 sacks and 12 tackles
for loss. At 6-4 and 250 pounds he holds up well and has
excellent quickness when he gets a step. Now he has to do even
more with teams focusing on stopping him, but he should be able
to come through and he should be the team's top pass rusher.
6-4, 270-pound junior Mike Krause turned
into a nice starter on the nose making 20 tackles and three
tackles for loss working mostly as an anchor for the rest of the
defensive front. While he's not going to be a big-time stat
producer, his job will be to clog up everything inside and let
everyone else work around him. He's a veteran who can be counted
on game in and game out.
Junior D.J. Pirkle
is a bowling ball at tackle who brings good quickness
and a 6-0, 270-pound body for the inside. He was a key reserve
making 17 tackles with a sack and six tackles for loss. Now he
goes from being a backup to a starter, taking over for Alex
Krutsch, and he should be more disruptive.
Projected Top Reserve: Brian Lawson
is a good young prospect who'll bring tremendous athleticism on
the nose. The 6-3, 260-pound redshirt freshman was a high-school
track star and an all-star wrestler to go along with his
performance on the football field. He should be a great interior
pass rusher working behind Krause on the nose.
6-3, 250-pound redshirt freshman Sean
Progar-Jackson is expected to be top-shelf disruptive
force with great pass rushing potential. He made 40 sacks in
three high school seasons, and while he's not being asked to be
English, he's expected to become a key specialist working in a
rotation with Coffman.
JUCO all-star Kyle Jenkins
made 19.5 sacks and 40 tackles for Harper College last
year and he's expected to make an immediate impact. At 6-4 and
256 pounds he has good size and he's as athletic as any of the
other NIU ends. He'll be a part of a rotation behind Bice, but
he could end up seeing his share of starting time. He's that
Watch Out For ... the line to be better overall as
the season goes on. While it's hard to be improved after losing
English and needing some new starters to come through big, the
coaching staff has said this group should end up being better.
There are some fantastic prospects to get excited about.
Strength: Quickness. English came up with 16 tackles for
loss and eight sacks, and while no one player can replace the
production, Coffman, Progar-Jackson, and the junior combination
of Jenkins and Darnell Bolding
should ease the burden.
Weakness: Proven depth. There isn't any, outside of
Jenkins, and that's from the JUCO circuit. There are a lot of
excellent prospects, but the team will be relying on unproven
players to improve on a good line that helped carry the team at
Outlook: The Huskies have to be a big stronger and
a bit more consistent up front, and there has to be more of a
pass rush from the periphery players who worked around English,
but this should be a good line that will be fantastic going into
2010. Of the ten top linemen there's only one senior.
Gone is the team's top-tackling linebacker, Tim McCarthy, who
made 61 tackles, and now it'll be up to Pat Schiller
to be a star. He might be from day one. At 6-2 and 225 pounds,
the sophomore isn't all that big, but he had a fantastic spring
hitting everything in sight and showing great range. He appeared
in every game making 24 tackles with three tackles for loss, and
now he should be one of the team's top five tacklers.
6-0, 220-pound junior Alex Kube was the team's
leading tackler in 2006 and moved from safety to linebacker.
While he was fine, finishing fourth on the team in tackles, he
wasn't the same playmaker he was when he was in the secondary
making 59 stops with a sack and seven tackles for loss. He
has excellent range and he's as tough as they come. Now he'll be
asked to do more as a disruptive all-around force on the
Senior Cory Hanson started
seven games and made 37 tackles. He missed part of the season
with a knee injury, but he was able to come back and start the
final two games of the year. The 6-2, 225-pounder made 72
tackles as a freshman showing off excellent speed and range and
followed it up with a 55-stop sophomore season. Now he should be
a fantastic weakside defender with experience to go along with
his tools. Unsung over the course of his career, he should be in
the hunt for all-star honors.
Projected Top Reserve: Senior John Tranchitella made two starts on the
weakside and was a key backup after originally being expected to
start going into the year. The 6-1, 230-pounder will backup
Hanson after making 15 tackles with two tackles for loss, but
he's a reliable reserve who can step in and start without a
problem. He has to prove he can hold up for a full-season.
Redshirt freshman Victor Jacques is a
former fullback from Miami who was quickly moved over to
linebacker. The 6-1, 210-pounder is extremely quick and very
athletic, and now he'll get his shot working in the middle
behind Schiller. He might not be big, but he has the range and
the skills to work anywhere in the corps.
Spencer Williamson made 34 tackles in 2007, but
he was reduced to a little-used reserve last season making just
five tackles. Now the 6-4, 205-pound senior will try to close
out his career on a high note working on the strongside behind
Watch Out For ... Schiller to be fantastic. He
might need a little while to get his bearings now that he's the
full-time starter, but he'll make up for most of his problems
with aggressiveness and sure-thing tackling ability.
Tacklers. These guys don't miss. They might
not be all that big, and they can be shoved around by linemen
who get to the second-level, but they'll bring their man down in
the open field.
Size. With some beefed up safeties playing
linebacker, the corps is full of athletes who have worked hard
to get an extra few pounds, but the lack of pure bulk is an
occasional problem making too many plays down the field over the
last few years. This is a nice corps to combat the spread, but
power running teams should be able to produce.
The linebackers should be fantastic.
Kube, Schiller, and Hanson will get to everything, and while
they might have a problem against the bigger teams, they'll
produce as well as any corps in the MAC. The backups are good
enough to rotate in and produce, even though there's a big
drop-off from the ones to the twos.
Senior David Bryant has been moved around over
the course of his career working and running back, linebacker,
and strong safety, but he started every game last year at free
safety leading the team with 83 tackles with three broken up
passes and two tackles for loss. A big hitter, he tied for the
team lead with three forced fumbles. While he didn't pick off
any passes, and hasn't done enough to make things happen against
the better passing teams throughout his career, he's a potential
all-star. The 5-11, 205-pound veteran was consistent, but now he
has to be more disruptive.
Sophomore Tracy Wilson
had a great spring, but he'll have to fight to hold on to the
strong safety job. The 6-2, 200-pounder was a spot starter as a
freshman and a key backup finishing with 43 tackles with a
tackle for loss. A sound tackler and a great all-around athlete,
he should shine if he holds on to the starting spot. If he
starts every game, he'll be a top three tackler.
over at the left corner spot will be junior Patrick
George, a nice backup until now who made 20 tackles
with an interception. At 5-11 and 190 pounds, he has decent size
and some of the best wheels on the team. He was an Illinois
state champion-level sprinter with 10.4 speed in the 100. Now he
has to start making some more things happen when the ball is in
On the right side will be Karee Daniels,
a former JUCO transfer who was a star Florida high school
weightlifter and sprinter, along with working as a top
defensive back. Now the 5-10, 190-pound junior has to show he
can play after making nine tackles with a fumble recovery.
Projected Top Reserve:
After Alex Kube moved from safety to linebacker, Mike
Sobol stepped up and produced finishing second on the
team with 67 tackles and three tackles for loss. He's a good
hitter who has shown nice potential, but not enough big plays
and not enough against the pass. A former high school
quarterback, the 6-0, 195-pound junior has to work to get his
job back after being relegated to the second team after spring
secondary is loaded with young players who were brought in last
year and need to shine. The leader of the redshirt freshmen is
Jody Van Laanen, a 6-0, 190-pounder will work
at free safety behind Bryant, but he could play strong safety if
needed. He was an all-star quarterback in high school and a
state champion wrestler, and now he has to show he's ready to
produce on a consistent basis.
Watch Out For ... Wilson. Sobol will end up
finding a spot somewhere in the safety rotation, but Wilson has
the spot going into the fall. Wilson has tremendous upside and
he should be one of the team's new defensive stars.
Strength: Safety. The Huskies are loaded with Bryant,
Sobol, and Wilson all as good as any safeties in the MAC, while
Van Laanen is a strong prospect.
Weakness: Interceptions. The program doesn't pick
off passes, and it's bizarre considering all the talent in the
secondary. The Huskie secondary had picked off a mere ten passes
in the previous two years, and the team came up with just six
last year. How many picks did the defensive backs come up with?
Outlook: NIU finished fifth in the nation and
first in the MAC in pass defense allowing 161 yards per game,
but that was with a loaded, veteran secondary and Larry English
leading the pass rush. This will be a good secondary in a little
bit of time, but the new starting corners have to come through
with big seasons with less of a pass rush expected to help the
Senior Mike Salerno came to NIU as a transfer from
Winona State, and he turned into an all-star connecting on 18-of-24
field goals including a 52-yarder against Bowling Green. While he missed
a few makeable kicks, he's good enough to be used any time after
improving as the year went on. He'll also get the first look handling
the punting chores replacing Andy Dittbenner, who struggled last year.
Salerno punted six times averaging 31 yards per kick putting two inside
Starting running back Me'co Brown
averaged 21.4 yards per kickoff return and 7.9 yards per punt return,
but Ricky Crider will likely get more work on kickoff
returns after averaging 28 yards per try.
Watch Out For ... a battle for the punting job.
Salerno has a little bit of experience, but junior Josh Wilber
will get every chance to win the gig. In a perfect world,
Salerno is just a placekicker.
Strength: Salerno. His misses didn't turn out to matter, while
he came through with some big kicks to bail out the inconsistent
offense. He has the deep leg to get more chances from 50+, even though
he only hit 3-of-7 kicks from beyond 40 yards.
Weakness: Punt returns. A major strength under the old regime,
the punt return game struggled in Kill's first season averaging just 6.7
yards per try. There are too many quick, speedy options to not do more.
Outlook: The NIU special teams have been wildly
inconsistent over the last few years, being fantastic in some areas and
really bad in others. It's like the team adjusts to improve one area,
and another area slips. Salerno will be a strong placekicker, but more
is needed from the punting and punt return games. Considering NIU played
seven games decided by seven points or less, the special teams have to
be tighter and they have to be a strength.