Created:Tuesday, April 27, 2010 9:58 p.m.CDT

Kill sings praises about NIU backfield

Northern Illinois running back Jasmin Hopkins (right) takes a handoff from quarterback Jordan Lynch during this past Saturday's practice at Huskie Stadium. (Rob Winner –

Northern Illinois coach Jerry Kill continued to talk about the good vibrations he's felt about his program this spring during Tuesday's Mid-American Conference coaches teleconference.

Among the areas Kill feels best about is running back with the emergence of junior Cameron Bell, the health of senior Ricky Crider and a surprisingly solid spring from junior college transfer Jasmin Hopkins able to provide some depth behind No. 1 back Chad Spann.

"I think we're more like we were at Southern Illinois and I think more of what (former NIU coach) Joe (Novak) had during the very good years," Kill said.

Kill said Bell and Hopkins played better than he thought they would in the spring, along with wide receiver Martel Moore, safety Tommy Davis and center Scott Wedige.

"Scott Wedige surprised me with stepping in at center and just did a fantastic job," Kill said.

Kill said there is one major problem still facing the team coming into fall camp.

"I think the biggest question mark we have on our football team is who is going to be the kicker? I think that's a big, big question mark in our situation," Kill said. "I'm big on the kicking game and that's probably the spot I worry about the most."

Looking ahead: Kill was asked about playing Illinois on Sept. 17 in Champaign. It's a game Kill is looking forward to.

"It'll be a tremendous challenge," he said. "We understand, certainly being in the state of Illinois and the type of athletes that Illinois has and what they do will be a great challenge. But I do think it's a great game for the state, for both of us to be playing each other."

Return of MiQuale: Ball State's leading rusher MiQuale Lewis was granted a medical redshirt to return to the Cardinals for another season. Lewis missed all but four games during the 2007 season, when he tore an ACL. Lewis has 3,334 career rushing yards.

"He's a very versatile player and we really have four exceptional tailbacks on our team, the best depth we've had since I've been here," Ball State coach Stan Parrish said. "But MiQuale is our leader. He's a very versatile player, a very calm player under pressure and getting him back was a huge, huge lift."

Big changes, Part I: Since Central Michigan coach Dan Enos took over for Butch Jones on Jan. 12, Enos has gone about bringing a few dramatic changes to the Chippewas.

"We had to install pretty much a new offensive system, defensive system and special teams," Enos said. "I thought our players had a great attitude, their effort was very good. We got a majority of our stuff in."

Big changes, Part II: After a 0-12 season in his first as a college head coach, Eastern Michigan coach Ron English said he believed in what he and his staff were doing and spent most of last season getting players on that level.

"There was a radical shift of ideology here," English said. "I want a physical football team and a team that's going to be able to run the ball and stop the run on defense. So we changed everything.

"To be frank with you, that was maybe hard on a lot of guys here who were maybe recruited to another type of system."

Will NIU football win the MAC this season?