New Northern Illinois head football coach Dave Doeren and his 2011 Huskie football team hit the Huskie Stadium turf for the first of 15 spring football practices Tuesday morning in DeKalb.
During a two-plus hour workout in shorts and helmets that saw the weather range from wet to cold and windy, Doeren saw the attitude and effort that he has seen throughout offseason morning workouts over the last two months.
“The thing I loved was the effort and the intensity,” said Doeren after his first practice as NIU head coach. “They sprinted out the door; they couldn’t wait to get on the field. Those are the things I was hoping to get – great effort and great attitude. We have guys that want to get better.
“They are a group of guys that work hard. Everything you ask them to do they try to do. They are hungry, they are true to what they say. It was great to get them out on the field today. ”
Northern Illinois returns 48 letterwinners and 14 starters off the 2010 team that won 11 games and finished the season with a dominating performance in the Humanitarian Bowl over Fresno State. Now the returning players, along with the 27 players who redshirted last season, will use spring to acclimate to their new coaching staff while working to “get better every day.”
“The first thing we want to do is stay healthy,” Doeren said. “I told the guys if they can find 15 things – one each day (of practice) – to improve on, if 80 guys do 15 things better (over the spring), we’ve gotten a ton better. It’s the same way with the coaches. We need to find little ways to get better throughout these 15 practices. Each day we’re out there trying to improve what we saw the day before on film. We’ll look at the tape on Tuesday and go back and look Thursday and you want it to be better. If we can do that 15 times, it will be a great spring.”
While the players adjust to new terminology and learn new plays, and the coaches get a chance to work with players on the field for the first time, Doeren expects practices to be fast and productive.
“I want the guys to master the schemes that we’re running,” he said. “I want them to be very confident and comfortable in the terminology and the way we execute things. I don’t want them to be thinking about what we do offensively and defensively as much as just playing the game, reacting instead of thinking. They’ll know exactly how we want things done. Our coaches are going to be coaching on the run and flying around the field. You’ll see a lot of energy and enthusiasm. There will be guys sprinting from drill to drill.”
Northern Illinois returns nine starters on offense, including All-MAC quarterback Chandler Harnish, the first Huskie to be named to the Mid-American Conference first team at quarterback, and all five starters on the offensive line.
Defensively, Sean Progar, Devon Butler and Tommy Davis all earned postseason recognition from the league and are back for 2011. While the players who redshirted last season are the least familiar to the coaching staff, as Doeren said “every one of these guys is new to me.”
“For me, with every single guy out there it’s going to be an evaluation that I can’t wait to see,” he said. “There are certain guys that were redshirted a year ago that we don’t have film on, and we’re anxious to see what guys can actually do with pads on. You have a real good idea on returners on what you’re getting. I can’t wait to be out there coaching the guys. Being on the field is where I’m most comfortable and I know for the players, there’s nowhere else they’d rather be.”
For the next five weeks on Tuesday, Thursdays and Saturdays, that is exactly where the Huskies will be. After going through two practices in shorts and helmets this week per NCAA regulations, Northern Illinois will don pads for the first time this spring Saturday.
Northern Illinois will hold its annual spring football game at 2 p.m. Saturday, April 23, at Huskie Stadium.
Prior to the spring game, which marks the final practice of 2011 spring drills, NIU will hold the annual Huskie Athletic Support Fund Tailgate Showdown from noon-2 p.m. For more information on the Tailgate Showdown, contact the HASF office in the Convocation Center at (815) 753-1923.