As the Northern Illinois football team enters its second week of fall camp, one position where first year head coach Dave Doeren is looking for new starters is in the secondary. With starting corners Patrick George and Chris Smith departed, there is playing time available for those who make an impression in camp.
One player who has made such an impression is former walk-on Rashaan Melvin (Waukegan, Ill./Waukegan), who looks set to begin the season as one of the starting corners for the Huskies.
Melvin, who appeared in all 14 games a season ago, made a pair of starts last season, against Illinois and Western Michigan. The 6-foot-2 redshirt junior tied for eighth on the team last season with 39 total tackles, including 24 solo efforts. He was also third on the team in interceptions in 2010 and fourth in pass breakups.
Redshirt sophomore Dominique Ware (Bolingbrook, Ill./Plainfield North) sits atop the NIU depth chart at the other cornerback spot. Ware appeared in eight games last season, seeing the first collegiate action of his career against Akron. Ware also picked off a pass in his debut against the Zips.
Also in the mix at the cornerbacks spots early in camp are redshirt sophomore Sean Evans (Ft. Walton Beach, Fla./Ft. Walton Beach), sophomore Jimmie Ward (Mobile, Ala./Davidson) and redshirt freshman Marckie Hayes (Sycamore, Ill./Sycamore).
“They have been working very hard, they have become technically sound and have picked up where they left off in the spring,” said NIU cornerbacks coach Richard McNutt. “Rashon Melvin and Dominique Ware have emerged as the leaders of this group and they are pushing the other guys to get better every day.”
At free safety, Tommy Davis (East St. Louis, Ill./Althoff Catholic) returns after starting all 14 games a season ago. A playmaker from the back end, Davis led NIU, and tied for the conference lead, with four fumble recoveries. He also finished fourth on the team with 73 tackles last season, including 47 solo stops. In addition to his defensive duties, Davis was named to the All-MAC Third Team as a return specialist in 2010.
As the most experienced player in the defensive backfield, Davis doesn’t see the NIU coaching change as much of a challenge for the secondary.
“There are only so many ways that you can play cover three,” Davis said. “A lot of the stuff stays the same. Maybe concepts here and there are different but, for the most part, we have stuck to the same basics we were used to playing.”
Junior Demetrius Stone (Miami, Fla./American Senior/Coffeyville CC) is penciled in to the starting spot for the Huskies at strong safety.
Last season, his first in a NIU uniform, Stone appeared in 11 games, making 20 tackles with three pass breakups. Stone had a strong close to the 2010 campaign, registering a career-best nine tackles, including six solo efforts, in the Humanitarian Bowl victory over Fresno State.
Other players near the top of the NIU depth chart at safety include redshirt freshman Dechane Durante (Charlotte, N.C./Vance) and redshirt junior Courtney Stephen (Brampton, Ont./Turner Fenton/Wilfrid Laurier).
“They have done a good job,” said NIU defense coordinator and safety coach Jay Niemann. “We have some talented guys back there and they have done a good job of learning the system. There isn’t a great deal of playing experience back there but you wouldn’t know it from watching us practice thus far.”
With Niemann and McNutt splitting the duties coaching the secondary, Niemann sees it as a chance to give the players more hands-on coaching.
“We get to work on more technique and more fundamental work,” Niemann said. “It’s simply a better student-to-teacher ratio.”
The Huskies went through their first two-a-day on Tuesday and were greeted by cool temperatures on the Huskie Stadium turf as they wore full pads during the morning session. Among the highlights of the morning workout was a Ware fumble recovery that went for a touchdown, sending the defensive players and coaches into a frenzy.
In the afternoon, the team was in shells and worked on kickoff return for the first time this fall.
For more information on NIU football and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.