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2009 Northern Illinois Preview - Offense
Northern Illinois C Eddie Adamski
Northern Illinois C Eddie Adamski
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Jun 12, 2009


CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Northern Illinois Husky Offense

Northern Illinois Huskies

Preview 2009 - Offense


- 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: The offense was better at running the ball, thanks to mobile quarterbacks, and now the hope is to get more out of the running backs. QB Chandler Harnish was asked to do a little too much, leading the team in rushing along with being the star passer, and while he's the leader of the offense, the goal is to take the pressure off. The receiving corps needs to find a top target and has to be more productive, but there are good options to develop. The line should be fantastic with three good starters returning and several good options for the right side. Consistency and scoring pop will be needed after never getting the same good game twice in a row.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Chandler Harnish
118-211, 1,528 yds, 8 TD, 9 INT
Rushing: Chandler Harnish
118 carries, 539 yds, 4 TD
Receiving: Reed Cunningham
22 catches, 252 yds, 3 TD

Star of the offense: Sophomore QB Chandler Harnish
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore WR Willie Clark
Unsung star on the rise: Senior OG Jason Onyebuagu
Best pro prospect: Senior C Eddie Adamski
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Harnish, 2) Adamski, 3) RB Me'co Brown
Strength of the offense: Line, Quarterback
Weakness of the offense: No. 1 Receiver, Workhorse RB

Quarterbacks

Projected Starter: Sophomore Chandler Harnish was thrown into the mix early on as a redshirt freshman and bombed away for 326 yards and two touchdowns in the heartbreaking opening day loss to Minnesota. While he missed a little time banged up, He ended up showing tremendous upside completing 56% of his passes for 1,528 yards with eight touchdowns, but he had problems with interceptions throwing nine, with all of them coming in the final six games. The 6-2, 210-pound sophomore is more like a seasoned veteran rather than just a young, emerging leader. Extremely athletic, he ended up leading the team with 539 rushing yards and four touchdowns, highlighted by a 113-yard day against Bowling Green and a 117-yard, two-score day against Kent State.


Projected Top Reserve: Sophomore DeMarcus Grady is a strong all-around athlete who has seen enough time to be a good No. 2 option. He stepped in and played in six games completing 58% of his passes for 138 yards and two touchdowns, and he ran for 188 yards and three scores. He has decent 6-1, 200-pound size and can crank out big runs in bunches if he's thrown into the fire again.

Watch Out For ... Harnish to run less. While the coaching staff doesn't want to totally stifle the sophomore's running skills, the goal is to get more out of the running backs to carry the load. If Harnish takes too much of a pounding, Grady isn't a bad option, but the running backs will take care of the balance.
Strength
:
Mobility. Harnish was great when everything broke down in the backfield and was able to run to keep the chains moving. Grady is an even more dangerous runner and will scare defensive coordinators as an X factor going into every game.
Weakness
:
Interceptions. Harnish threw way too many over the second half of last year. The team only threw 12 interceptions total, but there were only 13 touchdown passes and with a brand new receiving corps to deal with, the quarterbacks will have to be sharper.
Outlook: The coaching staff admitted to heaping too much work upon Harnish, but it turned out to be a good move as he's now seasoned and ready to be the leader and star over the next few years. Grady is a great second option who'll see time here and there just to throw a curve ball into the equation.
Rating: 7

Running Backs

Projected Starters: Meco Brown ended up being the team's leading running back, but he he only ran for 510 yards with two touchdowns and saw his workload drop to next to nothing over the final five games. The 5-7, 180-pound true sophomore ran for 111 yards and a score against Eastern Michigan and 123 yards against Miami University, but he struggled late. Extremely quick, he was strong on kickoff returns averaging 21.4 yards per game.


Projected Top Reserve: Combining forces at tailback will be junior Chad Spann, a 5-9, 195-pound speedster who might be the team's best athlete. He led the team with eight touchdowns and finished third on the team with 429 rushing yards, but he needs to do a lot more. With too much speed and quickness to ignore, he has too much home run hitting potential to not become a bigger factor.

Sophomore Ricky Crider got a little bit of work rushing for 208 yards and a score in his limited work. Another smallish, quick NIU back, the 5-9, 190-pounder ran for 55 yards against Navy and 49 yards against Kent State, and now he'll be a bigger part of the rotation while also serving as a kickoff returner after averaging 28 yards per try with a 75-yarder against Ball State.

Is Justin Anderson ready to be back in the mix? The star of 2007 with 1,245 yards and eight touchdowns, he showed off a tremendous combination of speed and power for a losing team that couldn't seem to do anything right. He also caught 45 passes for 263 yards and three touchdowns. The 5-11, 222-pound senior suffered a knee injury late in 2007 and he hasn't been the same since. He was out for most of spring ball this year with a foot injury.

Working again as a fullback, when the team uses on, will be sophomore Kyle Skarb, a 6-2, 220-pound blocker who started five times before getting hurt and being limited over the second half of the year. He only caught eight passes but they went for 72 yards and two touchdowns, and now he'll be even more a part of the attack while continuing to try to pave the way for the ground game. 

Watch Out For ... more from the running backs. A lot more. There was a decent rotation of backs, but there wasn't enough overall production from the backfield. It all forced the quarterbacks to do more for the ground game, but the backs will be the runners now and the quarterbacks will spend more time dealing with the passing attack.
Strength
:
Quickness. Brown and Crider can cut on a dime and should be able to crank out yards in chunks now that they know what they're doing. Spann can fly and should be far more dangerous in the open field.
Weakness
:
Meaningful production. The running backs were a major disappointment last season with Anderson never right and no one stepping up to be the main man. Yes, there are four veteran backs to work with, and they've all seen time and produced, but can anyone make the ground game dangerous again?
Outlook: Yes, NIU his the 2,000-yard mark as a team, rushing for 2,226 yards and 26 touchdowns, but that was because the quarterbacks combined for more than 700 yards. The backs are too good and too promising to not be a major plus now that they'll be counted on more.
Rating: 6


Receivers

Projected Starters: The receiving corps desperately needs a new star to step up and become a No. 1 target, and the hope will be for Landon Cox to be the one. The 6-3, 215-pound junior started in eight games and took over a job in the second half of last year finishing with 16 catches for 126 yards and a score. With his size and his experience, he needs to be the go-to receiver at the inside Z position who keeps the game moving.

On the outside will be Willie Clark, a 6-1, 190-pound sophomore who made six catches for 79 yards in his limited role. A high school track star, he'll have no problems stretching the field, but he has to prove he can be a consistent, reliable receiver who can be counted on to hit a home run now and then.

Sophomore Jason Schepler was a spot starter and became a key factor by the end of the year even though he only caught two passes for 15 yards. At 6-3 and 255 pounds, he's a blocker with just enough athleticism to step up and become a mid-range receiver from time to time. Even with his upside, his job will be to bust things option for the ground game.


Projected Top Reserves: Senior Marcus Lewis will be a starter sooner than later. The 6-3, 210-pounder was one of the stars of spring ball. He has always had the talent and the upside, but he only caught 11 passes in his first two seasons and has never lived up to his prep hype spending most of his time on special teams. After tremendous offseason, he's expected to be a key player working at the Z behind Cox.

5-11, 185-pound sophomore Nathan Palmer is a speedster on the outside who averaged a whopping 23.2 yards per catch helped by a 91-yard play against Minnesota. On the year he finished with 12 catches for 278 yards and two scores, and now he should be able to do far more in three and four wide sets. He missed time last year hurt, but he was able to return for the bowl game.

Senior Reed Cunningham isn't a game-breaker, but he was a good, reliable receiver finishing third on team with a steady 22 catches for 252 yards and three touchdowns. At 6-5 and 245 pounds he's a tall target with good hands and great route running ability, and while he's not a big blocker, he's good enough to get by. He'll combine with 6-4, 260-pound junior Bryan Beckner, a blocker, to play behind Schepler.

Watch Out For ... Lewis. A tremendous athlete who has never been able to come close to playing up to his raw skills, he appeared to put it all together this offseason and he could be a decent new factor in the equation.
Strength: Deep speed. Clark and Palmer can move, and Cox and Lewis have good wheels. The passing game averaged 12.1 yards per catch and should be able to match that and improve the numbers.
Weakness
:
Star power. Marcus Perez and Matt Simon are gone after catching 68 passes and finishing the season 1-2, respectively. There are decent prospects and some good veterans coming back, but Perez and Simon were big play targets who carried the passing game at times.
Outlook: The receivers need a few big surprises to emerge. Clark could be one, and Lewis appears to be another, while the tight ends will likely be relied on to do more. The coaching staff is going to want to stretch the field more and will try to get the receivers deep, whether they produce or not.
Rating: 5

Offensive Linemen

Projected Starters: The star of a very productive, rock-solid line will once again be Eddie Adamski, a third-team All-MAC performer who was the leader and quarterback up front for the last few years. At 6-3 and 280 pounds, he has slimmed down over the last few years and is better on the move. He doesn't make mistakes and is as polished as they come.

6-6, 290-pound sophomore Trevor Olson took over at left tackle and started every game. Tall, athletic, and talented, the former high school hockey player has great lateral quickness turning into a fantastic pass protector. He didn't earn all-star honors, but he will this year. He's good on the move and he'll keep the quarterbacks clean.

Third-team All-MAC performer Jason Onyebuagu turned into a nice find at left guard starting nine games. A strong run blocker, he overcame a leg problem that bothered him throughout the 2007 season to become a rock. Versatile, he can play center if needed and he's athletic enough to play tackle if he absolutely has to. At 6-2 and 305 pounds, the senior brings nice size to the inside. 

Junior Panan Tense is one of the team's most versatile linemen as the projected starter at right guard and the No. 2 option at right tackle. He's being tried out at tackle and could still win the job, but at 6-4 and 300 pounds he's a near-perfectly sized guard option. He only played three times last year but has a world of upside after being one of the team's star recruits when he came to DeKalb. He's overdue to produce.

At the moment,  Kevin Skatrud will be the starter at right tackle, but Tense is pushing for the job. Also an option at guard, the 6-5, 330-pound sophomore started three times last year on the left side before giving way to Onyebuagu. While it's asking a lot for Skatrud to be Jon Brost at tackle, he has the size and the upside to be a fixture if he can be consistent in pass protection.


Projected Top Reserves: 6-5, 285-pound sophomore Joe Pawlak was a key backup last year and will see time at right guard. It's possible he'll win the job outright if Tense ends up moving to tackle, but at the very least he'll be a strong part of the rotation with phenomenal strength to go along with his little bit of experience.

Sophomore Keith Otis was an all-star recruit who didn't see any time last year but will now work to be a part of the rotation at left tackle. At 6-4 and 295 pounds, he has a good frame and he's a finisher of a run blocker, but he'll mostly star in pass protection with good athleticism and long arms.

Watch Out For ... Tense. He has yet to do anything in game action, but he's a big all-around blocker who'll be a fixture up front for the next two years somewhere. He's a better guard than a tackle, but if he's lights-out on the outside there will be a major shake-up. 
Strength
:
Skill and production. There weren't any superstars on last year's line but it turned out to be the steadiest in the MAC. There are good replacements for the lost starters to go along with three great veterans to work around.
Weakness
:
Run blocking. It's been a problem for the last few years, even if the stats don't necessarily show it. Yes, the Huskies finished third in the MAC and 36th in the nation in rushing averaging 171 yards per game, but that was partly due to the mobility of the quarterbacks and the lack of sacks allowed to take net yards away. The line needs to be a bit more consistent when the running backs are carrying the ball.
Outlook: After a down year in 2007, the line came back with a fantastic season doing a fantastic job in pass protection while being better for the ground game. Now it could be better even after losing two starters. The left side will be a rock, and Adamski will be one of the MAC's best centers, but the right side will see two big battles throughout the fall. Even so, the situation is good at all five spots.
Rating: 6.5