2010 Northern Illinois Preview – Defense
Northern Illinos CB Tracy Wilson
Northern Illinos CB Tracy Wilson
Posted Jun 18, 2010

CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - Northern Illinois Huskie Defense

Northern Illinois Huskies

Preview 2010 - Defense

- 2010 Northern Illinois Preview | 2010 Northern Illinois Offense
- 2010 Northern Illinois Defense | 2010 Northern Illinois Depth Chart
- Northern Illinois Previews  2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006

What You Need To Know: After leading the MAC in total defense, finishing third in scoring defense, and finishing second in sacks and tackles for loss, there's reason to be very, very excited with nine starters returning and a ton of depth to create several good battles for jobs up and down the defense. Thanks to the return of end Jake Coffman, who left the team for a brief period, the pass rush will still be phenomenal. The athleticism in the back seven has been upgraded by the last few recruiting classes, and the potential is there to be even better against the run with more speed at linebacker and the return of tackle Mike Krause from a heart ailment. The secondary needs to use its experience and athleticism to be far better and far more consistent. The pass rush will be there to help, and now the defensive backs have to start picking off more passes.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Tracy Wilson, 93
Sacks: Jake Coffman, 8.5
Interceptions: Patrick George, 2

Star of the defense: Senior DE Jake Coffman
Player who has to step up and be a star: Senior CB Patrick George
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Devon Butler
Best pro prospect: Sophomore FS Tommy Davis
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Coffman, 2) SS Tracy Wilson, 3) DE Sean Progar
Strength of the defense: Pass Rush, Experience
Weakness of the defense: Interceptions, Good Passers

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: Senior Jake Coffman was done with football and ready to move on with his life, and then he came back and chose to be a part of the fun for one-more year. The 25-year-old Marine was the team's top pass rusher making 8.5 sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss along with 39 tackles in his first year taking over for Larry English. At 6-5 and 255 pounds, he's tall, quick, and very, very athletic. A second-team All-MAC performer, he's the leader and the playmaker up front that everyone else works around.

Taking over on the nose after missing all of last year is senior Mike Krause , a strong and active 6-4, 266-pound veteran who missed all of last year with a heart condition. Cleared to play, the 2008 starters who made 20 tackles will once again be an anchor up front. While he won't come up with a lot of flashy stats, if he's back to form he'll be a steady game-in-and-game-out producer.

6-0, 283-pound senior D.J. Pirkle is a bowling ball of a defender built for the nose but a regular at tackle. He made 21 tackles with two sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss, and while he's good at swallowing up runners, he's at his best when he's able to get on the move and use his quickness. He's a good, sound veteran who'll be among the team's most reliable defenders.

After taking over the starting job halfway through last year, sophomore Sean Progar should grow into the team's new pass rushing star. Extremely quick, the 6-3, 255-pounder finished with six sacks and eight tackles for loss with 30 stops. He made 40 sacks in high school and he's becoming a devastating playmaker with all the attention paid to Jake Coffman on the other side.

Projected Top Reserves: With Mike Krause out, sophomore Brian Lawson stepped in and became a six game starter on the nose before getting knocked out for the year with a hand injury. At 6-3 and 268 pounds he's not huge, and is a bit tall for the nose, but the former high school track star and all-star wrestler was a nice presence on the inside making ten tackles. He has the athleticism to be a decent interior pass rusher.

Even with Jake Coffman on the team and then off the team and then on the team again, Alan Baxter is still going to be a factor at left end. The 6-0, 259-pound sophomore is a short, quick squatty defender who's quick off the ball and decent against the run. He saw time as a key backup making 22 tackles with two tackles for loss, and now he has to prove he can get to the quarterback.

6-3, 283-pound Ron Newcomb was a strong backup tackle making 13 tackles with a sack and 3.5 tackles for loss. While he was good in his limited time against the run, he was at his best in passing situation as a tough player to throw over. He batted down three passes and was disruptive when he got his chances, and now the junior will play in the rotation with D.J. Pirkle.

Senior Darnell Bolding came in form Coffeyville Community College and played a role as a key backup on the end. Only 6-2 and 216 pounds, he's built like a safety and is extremely quick making 15 tackles with two sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss in his limited time. He's not going to be an every down defender, but he has the speed to be used a pass rushing specialist behind Sean Proger.

Watch Out For … the return of Krause. The defensive interior was solid without Krause finishing 35th in the nation against the run, but now that he's back the tackles should be fantastic. There might not be a space-eater, but the rotation should make running inside on the Huskies a nightmare.
Strength: Pass rushers. With Coffman choosing to return, a specialist in Bolding who can come in whenever a burst is needed, and with the emergence of Progar and Baxter on the outside, the Huskies will get to the quarterback early and often. Consider it a shock if NIU doesn't lead the MAC in sacks.
Weakness: Bulk. The NIU line will get by on quickness, a rotation, and experience, but there aren't a lot of big bodies on the inside. Pirkle and Newcomb are around 280 pounds, but the tackles run around 265. It wasn't a big issue last year until late in the season when South Florida's Mike Ford and Central Michigan's Bryan Schroeder ran wild.
Outlook: There will be an ongoing battle between Temple and NIU for the honor of having the MAC's best defensive front. The Huskies are loaded with two good options at every spot and pass rushing terrors in Coffman and Progar on the outside. The line will dominate at times, but after the way it got pushed around at the end of last year, it has to show it can handle good running teams again.
Unit Rating: 6.5


Projected Starters: It's been an interesting career for senior Alex Kube , who became a breakout MAC star in 2006 as the team's leading tackler, and then he moved from safety to linebacker and was fine, but nothing special. He has found a role on the strongside starting every game, and now the 6-0, 228-pounder will be a leader once again against the run after making 60 tackles with six tackles for loss. With excellent range and tremendous toughness, he's a fantastic veteran who should be an all-star again with a few flashier big plays and more stops.

The Huskies will do a little bit of moving around with sophomore Devon Butler getting a long look in the middle after making 15 tackles and two tackles for loss as a true freshman. The Miami native is a strong 5-11 and 224 pounds with sideline-to-sideline range and exceptional tackling skills. He's built for the position and should quickly become one of the team's top tacklers and a threat for All-MAC honors. While he won't be asked to get into the backfield on a regular basis, he should end up with a few sacks and at least five tackles for loss.

Will Pat Schiller stay on the outside? The 6-2, 231-pound junior finished third on the team with 82 tackles with 5.5 tackles for loss, but he's not the athlete or the prospect that Devon Butler is for the inside. Instead, Schiller will get a look on the weakside where he should be used more as pass rusher and a big-hitting intimidator. With great ranged and excellent pop, he'll find a role somewhere and should be a statistical star again.

Projected Top Reserves: If Tyrone Clark doesn't take over the job on the weakside, he'll at least be a major factor. The 5-11, 214-pound sophomore spent his first year as a reserve making 14 tackles with two sacks, and while he's not all that big, he's quick and has a burst to get into the backfield. A nice all-around athlete, he'll make plays whenever he's on the field.

6-1, 209-pound junior Jordan Delegal went the JUCO route to DeKalb and became a key backup making 29 tackles with four sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss. The 6-1, 209-pound Miami native was a JUCO all-star and showed why with the speed and quickness to be a pass rushing terror on the strongside. He might not be a starter, but he'll be a big-time playmaker whenever he gets a chance.

There's an outside chance that true freshman Cameron Stingily becomes an immediate factor. At 6-2 and 240 pounds he's the biggest linebacker in the mix and has the size and the presence to be a major run stopper in the middle. An Illinois All-State player as both a running back and linebacker, he's a very strong, very active prospect who'll someday be the team's leading tackler.

Watch Out For … a fight for the weakside job. Schiller was tremendous at the spot last year, but Clark has too much upside to keep off the field. It's a nice problem to have, but both players need to play.
Strength: The mix. There's an almost perfect blend of strong, sound veterans and phenomenal athletic prospects. Kube and Schiller are ultra-reliable, but Butler and Clark are going to be the bigger playmakers. The Huskies are loaded with talent.
Weakness: Size. By design, the linebacking corps is full of safety-like linebackers who are just bulked up enough to be able to handle the workload. There isn't a big thumper in the group, which is why Stingily, a true freshman, will get a chance.
Outlook: With a great defensive front paving the way, the strong, deep linebacking corps should be a terror. There's depth, athleticism, experience, and several nice players to form a few good combinations. With a bit more time, this could be the strength of a very deep team.
Unit Rating: 5.5


Projected Starters: Junior Tracy Wilson showed good promise last offseason making plays all over the field. After fighting for the job, he showed why there was so much excitement over his potential by making a team-leading 93 tackles with three broken up passes. The 6-2, 203-pounder is a force against the run and manages to get in on every play, but he has to do more when the ball is in the air. He's a true strong safety and not a free.

After spending last year as a key backup, 5-11, 196-pound sophomore Tommy Davis will take over the free safety job where he should be a playmaker against the pass. The former corner made eight tackles, but he didn't do anything when the ball was in the air. That will change. A thick 5-11 and 201 pounds, he'll be solid against the run and he has the speed and the smarts to be all over the field. Consider it a shock if he's not one of the team's leaders in interceptions.

5-11, 196-pound senior Patrick George has the size, he has the experience as the starter throughout last year, and he has the speed with Illinois state champion level wheels running a 10.4 100. Now he has to put it all together to be better. He came up with 45 tackles with two interceptions and five broken up passes, taking one pick 80 yards for a score against Central Michigan, but he has to do far more to use his skills as a lock-down, No. 1 corner. He needs to get the ball in his hands.

JUCO transfer Chris Smith was brought in to fight for a corner job right away, and he took it over making 70 tackles with four broken up passes in a terrific first year. Extremely quick, the 5-10, 186-pounder from Florida has no problems staying with the faster receivers, and he has no trouble being physical against the bigger ones. Now he has to come up with some picks after failing to snag one in his first season.

Projected Top Reserves: Senior Karee Daniels started off his career as a JUCO star before coming to the program as one of the more interesting defensive back prospects. The Florida high school star weightlifter and sprinter has the speed and he has the tools, and he has the experience making 28 tackles with an interception and three broken up passes. At 5-10 and 196 pounds he's a good-sized veteran corner to work in the rotation with Chris Smith.

Where will Mike Sobol play? The starting free safety for most of last year finished with 53 tackles and two forced fumbles, but he's not great against the pass. The 6-0, 203-pound senior and former high school quarterback will find his way on the field as a nickel and dime defender and is a reliable enough big hitter to push for time at free safety again.

A pair of redshirt freshmen will combine to back up Patrick George at left corner. 5-11, 174-pound Sean Evans is an active prospect with good quickness and open-field tackling ability, while the 6-0, 180-pound Dominique Ware is a very smart, very sound corner who could easily transition to free safety or a nickel role.

Watch Out For … free safety. Davis has the potential to be phenomenal with an increased role, but Sobol is reliable enough to get in the starting hunt again if the coaching staff wants to safe. And then there's JUCO transfer Demetrius Stone, and 5-11, 196-pound tackler from Miami with all the tools and talent to grab the starting job with a little bit of time.
Strength: Prospects. Three starters are back and they might not even be the best options at their respective spots. There are speedy young players like Evans and Davis waiting to shine, and decent veterans like Daniels and Sobol who know what they're doing.
Weakness: Interceptions. It was an ongoing theme for the Huskie defense last year. Even with a great pass rush to help the cause, the defensive backs simply didn't make enough plays when the ball was in the air. Of the eight picks, three came from a linebacker (Cory Hanson) and one from defensive end Jake Coffman.
Outlook: There's speed, experience, and upside, but this defensive backs got beaten up way too often and got worse down the stretch. There weren't enough big plays and there weren't enough key stops, but there's the potential to be far better with several good options to form the right mix.
Unit Rating: 5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: Sophomore Alex Faust will look to continue the great recent tradition of NIU placekickers taking over for Mike Salerno, who hit 19-of-25 shots with four of his misses coming from beyond 40 yards. Faust has a big leg, and he's going to get his chance to be the main man for the next three years.

Salerno was also the punter here and there, but NIU was only 96th in the nation in net average. Senior Josh Wilber came in after attending Phoenix College earning JUCO All-America honors. He has a big-time leg averaging 40.5 yards per kick splitting time with Salerno, and he put four inside the 20.

Free safety Tommy Davis is the team's main kick and punt returner averaging 24.1 yards per kickoff return with a score, and he averaged eight yards per punt try. Extremely quick, he's a gamebreaker with the ability to get up the field in a hurry.

Watch Out For … Wilber. Salerno was a nice directional punter, but he wasn't a bomber. Wilber, now that he has the full-time job, should be terrific and will bail out the defense from several jams.
Strength: Kickoff coverage. The Huskies only allowed 19.7 yards per return, but that was with a bomber in Salerno. Even without him, the coverage team should be strong again.
Weakness: Placekicking. That's not to say that Faust will be bad, he's a big kicker with a live leg, but it's asking a lot to replace Salerno, who hit 37-of-49 field goals over the last two years.
Outlook: The NIU special teams have been fine, but rarely special outside of the placekicking. It would be nice to get a bit more from the return game from someone other than Davis, and the punting game has to be more consistent. This isn't going to be a major weakness in any way, but the team has played 13 games over the last two years decided by a touchdown or less and could use every edge possible.
Unit Rating: 6

- 2010 Northern Illinois Preview | 2010 Northern Illinois Offense
- 2010 Northern Illinois Defense | 2010 Northern Illinois Depth Chart
- Northern Illinois Previews  2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006

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