2010 Northern Illinois Preview – Offense
Northern Illinois RB Chad Spann
Northern Illinois RB Chad Spann
Posted Jun 18, 2010

CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - Northern Illinois Huskie Offense

Northern Illinois Huskies

Preview 2010 - Offense

- 2010 Northern Illinois Preview | 2010 Northern Illinois Offense
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What You Need To Know: The offense found a groove running the ball last year and that's not going to change now. Offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover was able to get the ground game to average 195 yards per game, tops in the MAC, but the passing attack is just mediocre enough to cause a few problems. The line loses some key stars, but it should be good enough to pound away with, while the All-MAC back Chad Spann heads a dangerous group of runners who, along with the quarterback production, should combine for over 2,500 rushing yards. The question mark will be the knee of QB Chandler Harnish, and if he's not ready to go, then the experienced and mobile DeMarcus Grady will add even more to the rushing mix. The receiving corps is big and experienced, but it won't get too many chances to carry the offense.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Chandler Harnish
143-223, 11,670 yds, 11 TD, 6 INT
Rushing: Chad Spann
179 carries, 1,038 yds, 19 TD
Receiving: Landon Cox
45 catches, 535 yds, 4 TD

Star of the offense: Senior RB Chad Spann
Player who has to step up and be a star: Junior C Scott Wedige
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore WR Perez Ashford
Best pro prospect: Junior OT Trevor Olson
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Spann, 2) Olson, 3) WR Landon Cox
Strength of the offense: Running, Line
Weakness of the offense: Passing Numbers, Settled QB Situation


Projected Starter: How is Chandler Harnish's knee? The 6-2, 219-pound junior was thrown into the mix early as a freshman and came up with a brilliant 326-yard day in a loss to Minnesota, but he got hurt and didn't take back the job until the second half of the season. Last year he started out well, but he got injured again only to return for the final three games to gut it out during the final stretch. He completed 64% of his throws for 1,670 yards and 11 touchdowns with six interceptions, but four of his picks came in the final three outings. Athletic and mobile, he could have problems making things happen on the move with a knee that needs surgery, but is being given nothing more than a rest as he's trying to see if he can play through it.

Projected Top Reserve: Needing to be at the ready is 6-1, 203-pound junior DeMarcus Grady , a great recruit who has seen significant action over the last two years when Chandler Harnish has been hurt. While his passing has been decent, completing 40-of-69 throws for 418 yards and five touchdowns with two interceptions, he's been at his best on the move with 518 rushing yards and four scores including back-to-back 100-yard outings against Akron and Eastern Michigan last year. Considering the problems with Grady's knee, he'll likely see plenty of action again.

JUCO transfer Casey Weston was brought in as more than just an insurance policy if Harnish's knee isn't sound. The 6-2, 215-pound JUCO all-star set NW Mississippi JC records highlighted by a 421-yard passing day against Pearl River CC. Hess a bomber who can move the ball far better than Grady can through the air, but he's not a runner. The Alabama native could end up being the key to the team's season, and he's ready to step in whenever needed.

Watch Out For … Harnish's knee. There's a chance the knee could be even worse than originally expected. At the very least it'll be a major issue throughout the season and will mean the Huskies have to be ready to rely on Grady or Weston to play a significant role.
Strength: Options. If Harnish can play, the Huskies have three very interesting choices with different skills. Harnish is the crafty veteran, Grady is the dual-threat playmaker, and Weston is the passer. The coaching staff could play around with a rotation to find the right fit depending on the game.
Weakness: Passing production. The Huskies were 11th in the MAC and 198th in the nation in passing averaging 150 yards per game, but that was mostly because the ground game was so effective and was the main mode of transportation. It was an efficient passing game, but it wasn't consistent.
Outlook: It'll be an interesting season to see who can step up and be the reliable main man to run the attack. Grady will have every chance to take the job by the horns, but Harnish is still the best option when healthy. There are a few good young prospects who'll get a look this fall and Weston is a ready-made option, but while the ground game will carry the offense, NIU needs steady quarterback play to win the MAC.
Unit Rating: 5

Running Backs

Projected Starters: With Meco Brown leaving the program, more of the rushing workload will fall on senior Chad Spann, a 5-9, 198-pound speedster who ran for 1,038 yards and 19 touchdowns while catching ten passes for 122 yards and a score. While not all that big, it all came together for him during the middle of last year with four 100-yard rushing days in five games, but he was a consistent scorer throughout with two or more touchdowns scores in eight games. Slippery, he's tough to find around the goal line and he always seems to find the right holes. Now he has to get healthy after nursing a shoulder problem this offseason.

When the team uses a fullback, which it did more and more over the second half of last season, senior Kyle Skarb will step in as a big blocker. The 6-2, 226-pound veteran might not be built like a typical road grater, but he's tough for the ground game is a proven receiver catching 11 passes for 189 yards, averaging 17.2 yards per catch, and a score. He has had a few problems staying healthy, but when he's right he's a good part of the machine.

Projected Top Reserves: In the mold of most NIU backs, the 5-9, 190-pound Ricky Crider is small and quick. The junior didn't see much action last year working mostly in blowouts and finishing with ten catches for 37 yards but he showed his explosion on kickoff returns averaging over 21 yards per return.

Looking ready to make a big impact on the offense is Cameron Bell, a 6-2, 242-pound transfer from Iowa State who made 19 tackles as a Cyclone but came to NIU to be a running back. He's a big, tough runner who should be a perfect complement to the speedy backs, and he should take some of the short-yardage load away from Chad Spann.

JUCO transfer Jasmin Hopkins is a shifty speed back from Fort Scott CC who was the NJCAA Player of the Year after running for 1,931 yards and 16 scores. A weapon and a threat to become a major part of the running rotation right away, he's a home run hitter who could be devastating for five to ten carries a game.

Watch Out For … Hopkins. Brown was a dangerous speedster who cranked out 645 yards and four touchdowns, but Hopkins, if he plays like he did as a JUCO star, has the potential to be far better. He's not going to push Spann out of a job, but he could have a few blow-up games when he's the best player on the field.
Strength: Speed. Spann tore off a 79-yard run last year and can strike from anywhere on the field … and he's an anchor compared to the other runners. Crider can fly and Hopkins can hit the home run any time he touches the ball.
Weakness: Good defenses. Oh sure, blasting away on Eastern Michigan for 418 yards wasn't a problem, but in crunch time down the stretch, NIU was held to 103 yards by Ohio, 126 by Central Michigan, and 108 yards by USF in the bowl. Yes, there was a 280-yard, three touchdown day against Purdue, but that was an aberration. If NIU doesn't run well, it doesn't win.
Outlook: The running game should be among the best in the league and among the best in the nation again, even without Brown. The trio of Crider, Hopkins, and Bell provide more than enough good options to throw into a rotation with Spann, and with the line looking to be good again, hitting the 2,500-yard mark is a possibility for the ground game. If Grady is under center for the entire season, that number could even shoot up from there.
Unit Rating: 7.5


Projected Starters: Very quietly, senior Landon Cox came up with a nice year leading the team with 45 catches for 535 yards and four touchdowns. Steady throughout, he blew up with 11 catches for 132 yards against Ohio, and now he'll be the top target again at the team's V position working on both the inside and out. At 6-3 and 213 pounds, he has the size and he has the experience to grow into an All-MAC performer if the quarterback play is steady.

6-1, 196-pound junior Willie Clark is an outside target who finished third on the team with 19 catches for 220 yards and a score. A high school track star, stretching the field isn't a problem, but he has to continue to show that he has the potential to be a consistent, reliable receiver. A player with his wheels at the X position has to average more than 11.6 yards per grab.

There will be a rotation at the inside Z position with 5-10, 180-pound sophomore Perez Ashford getting the first shot. The speedster only caught ten passes for 83 yards, but he has the ability and the high school résumé to do far more. He was an Ohio high school star averaging 15.7 yards per grab with 21 scores for his Shaker Heights school outside of Cleveland, and he has the potential to become a breakout star with a little more time.

Hurt for a good chunk of last year, junior tight end Jason Schepler only caught one pass for a four-yard score against Western Illinois. However, he was a strong blocker with just enough athleticism to become more of a factor in the short passing game. At 6-3 and 255 pounds, he's built like a tall fullback and can block like one.

Projected Top Reserves: Looking to take over a starting spot after working at the outside X last year is Martrel Moore, a 6-2, 182-pound sophomore who made 16 catches for 189 yards a true freshman. A high school track star in Texas as both a sprinter and a long jumper, he has the athleticism, and now he needs to get the ball in his hands at the inside Z or at the X.

Combining with Perez Ashford at the inside Z is junior Nathan Palmer , a fast target who averaged 23.2 yards per catch in 2008 but only made five grabs for 70 yards and a score last year. At 5-11 and 197 pounds he's a bigger receiver than Ashford, but he has to prove he can stay healthy. Playing on the inside, he has to show he can take a hit.

After a terrific spring, 6-3, 189-pound redshirt freshman Anthony Johnson appears ready to make a big impact. He'll have a hard time getting on the field playing behind Landon Cox, but with his size and his athleticism (he was a Texas high school track star in the high jump and long jump) the upside is too great to keep him off the field. The light went on, and soon he could be one of the team's top targets. However, it might not happen until next year.

6-6, 229-pound junior Jack Marks isn't going to block anyone, but the big wide receiver will be a dangerous tight end with the potential to be a field stretcher. While he only caught one pass for five yards, he has the ability to be a dangerous part of the passing game. Watch Out For … Johnson. Only a redshirt freshman, the big target is a young, burgeoning playmaker who should become a bigger part of three and four-wide sets. While he won't push Cox out of a job, he could be effective on the 15-to-20 plays he'll make.
Strength: Size. By design, this is a big group of receivers expected to block as well as make big things happen for the passing game. Few secondaries will be able to outphysical this group.
Weakness: The offense. It'll be so geared toward running the ball that the opportunities simply won't be there. Cox made 45 catches last year as a No. 1 target, but the team only came up with 168 grabs for 1,950 yards and four scores. Coming up with the big deep play is a must.
Outlook: There's experience, speed, and size, but the numbers aren't going to be great because of a running game that will crank out at least 2,500 yards, If DeMarcus Grady is under center, the numbers could be even worse, so the receivers have to take advantage of every opportunity
Unit Rating: 5

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: The biggest key to the 2010 line will be the ability to replace longtime all-star Eddie Adamski at center. In steps Scott Wedige, a 6-4, 300-pound junior who has seen plenty of action over the last two years on special teams and has the bulk and the ability to quickly step in and shine. It's asking a lot to replace a technician in Adamski, but Wedige has strength and talent to become a steady quarterback for the good line.

Looking to take over for first-team All-MAC left guard Jason Onyebuagu will be 6-3, 314-pound Ed Jackson , a former defensive lineman who became a regular part of the rotation up front. He's a big, tough run blocker who'll split time, be counted on to be one of the team's most reliable interior presences.

Back at left tackle is Trevor Olson , a 6-6, 306-pound junior who started every game last year and did a terrific job in pass protection. The former high school hockey player has great lateral quickness and has few problems staying with the quicker pass rushers. He hasn't earned all-star honors yet, but he's overdue.

6-5, 301-pound junior Joe Pawlak took over the starting right guard job early last year and didn't let it go. While he's built like a tackle, he's ridiculously strong as a bulldozer of a run blocker to go along with just enough mobility to get to the second level and spring long runs. A fringe all-star prospect, he'll be one of the team's keys to the ground game.

There will be a regular rotation on the right side with 6-5, 308-pound junior Adam Kiehl fighting to keep his starting job. A great recruit with great athleticism, he was a high school tight end who was a regular in the passing game, bulked up, and has brought the quickness and mobility to the line as a great pass blocker. He could play on the left side without a problem if needed.

Projected Top Reserves: Combining forces with Adam Kiel at right tackle will be 6-4, 324-pound junior Keith Otis , a massive blocker who has yet to live up to his billing as an all-star recruit. With a great frame and the ability to finish as a pounding run blocker, he's a good all-around player who'll get every chance to start.

6-3, 312-pound sophomore Logan Pegram is the future at left guard, and he's being given the chance to be the present. He came on late last year as a key part of the guard rotation, and while he'll have to be consistent to beat out Ed Jackson, he has the upside to become a better option with a little more work. He'll also be the main backup at right guard.

Watch Out For … Pegram. An active blocker with the versatility to play either guard spot, he's a good blocker who can step in whenever needed to keep the ground game moving. He could end up beating out Jackson at left guard.
Strength: Run blocking. After being a disappointment for a few years, the line stepped up its play last season and blasted away for the ground game as the Huskies led the MAC averaging 195 yards per game. With three starters returning and good prospects to fill in the other spots, the production should continue. The pass protection wasn't bad, either, allowing a MAC-fewest 15 sacks.
Weakness: Adamski and Onyebuagu. The line will still be strong and there are more than enough good blockers to keep the line from falling off the map, but losing two first-team all-conference performers is never a plus. Adamski and Onyebuagu were two stars the offense worked around and relied on throughout. They'll be missed.
Outlook: NIU is known for putting together great lines, and when the front five has been great, the wins have come. This might not be the MAC-best line of last year, when it led the conference in rushing offense and sacks allowed, but it'll be very, very good if Wedige can shine at center and if the right guard combination can be found early on.
Unit Rating: 6.5

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