The Northern Illinois University football team wrapped up its second practice of the 2014 preseason with a 23-period workout Sunday afternoon on the turf at Huskie Stadium.
For the second straight practice, the Huskies were in shorts and helmets. NIU began practice with a period of special teams play, particularly field goal. The squad then broke off by position to work on fundamentals, rotating through various stations.
Once again, the freshman closed out the nearly two-hour workout with two periods of team. It was the defense carrying the day for the freshman in the two periods as Jawuan Johnson (New Boston, Texas/New Boston) had a pick of Landon Root (Wichita, Kan./Wichita Collegiate) and Herlandez Corley (Mobile, Ala./McGill-Toolen) had a sack of Ryan Graham (Wheaton, Ill./Wheaton-Warrenville South).
It was nice to see some young playmakers on the defensive side of the ball. Since his arrival in 2011, it has been almost a yearly tradition for NIU defensive coordinator/safeties coach Jay Niemann to rebuild the defense in some way shape or form.
In 2011, Niemann’s first season, he had to replace the entire starting defense as Sean Progar and Tommy Davis were the only returning starters. In 2012, NIU was looking for two new linebackers and in 2013, NIU had to replace three defensive linemen, two linebackers and a corner and a safety. This season NIU once again needs to find three defensive linemen and replace a cornerback.
While it may seem like a tall task, Niemann has been through it before and has made his goals for the defense in camp very simple. Just get better everyday.
“We just want to make improvement as a unit day by day. That’s the No. 1 goal,” Niemann said. “Everybody wants to talk about wins and losses all the time. Really, it’s a process that you go through.
“When you win and learn how to do it and you want to make sure you go through that process consistently on a regular basis week in and week out and doing the things it takes to be successful rather than worrying about the end result.”
While his goal for camp is pretty clear, Niemann has season goals for his unit as well. First and foremost is keeping the opposition out of the end zone. Last season, NIU was ninth in the Mid-American Conference in Red Zone Defense, while ranking eighth in the league in total defense.
“We’re trying to become a better defensive unit in terms of red zone production, goal line production, taking the ball away and forcing more three and outs,” he said. “Those are the things we’re focused on here in camp.”
One of the most talented units on the defensive side of the ball, if not the deepest, is linebacker. NIU has 12 linebackers on the roster and everyone on the two-deep has playing experience.
“We’re really happy with the guys coming back and we haven’t even had a padded practice yet,” Niemann said of the linebackers. “There’s experience there. There’s depth there, guys who have either played in starting roles or rotational roles.
“We expect really good things to come from that unit. That’s really the strength of our defense at this point.”
The unit hit the hardest by graduation last year was the secondary. While it was only one player, first-round selection, safety Jimmie Ward, it was a big loss. Senior Dechane Durante (Charlotte, N.C./Vance) is ready to step up and be a leader in his final season, as is redshirt junior Paris Logan (Columbia, Mo./Rock Bridge).
For more information on NIU football and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.