2009 Northern Illinois Preview - Defense
Northern Illinois LB Cory Hanson
Northern Illinois LB Cory Hanson
Posted Jun 12, 2009

CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Northern Illinois Huskie Defense

Northern Illinois Huskies

Preview 2009 - Defense

- 2009 Northern Illinois Preview | 2009 NIU Offense
- 2009 NIU Defense | 2009 NIU Depth Chart
- 2008 NIU Preview | 2007 NIU Preview | 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.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: David Bryant, 83
Sacks: Brandon Bice, 6.5
Interceptions: Patrick George, Cory Hanson, Pat Schiller, 1

Star of the defense:
Senior DE Brandon Bice
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior DE Jake Coffman
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

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: 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 good.

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.
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.
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 times.
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.
Rating: 6


Projected Starters: 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 strongside.

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.

Former safety 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 Kube

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.
Outlook: 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.
Rating: 6

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters:
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.

Taking 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 the air.

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 ball.

The 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.
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. 
: 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? Four.
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 cause.
Rating: 5.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: 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 the 20.

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.
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.
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.
Rating: 6