DeKALB – Something's different about DeMarcus Grady.
The redshirt junior still has the quick feet and cannon for an arm that have always made him an intriguing option under center for Northern Illinois.
But the improved timing and accuracy seen during the first three days of Huskies training camp suggest Grady is becoming less of a thrower and more of a quarterback.
"You can like see it, him getting better and progressing, his timing, everything," NIU junior wide receiver Willie Clark said. "The ball is getting better every day."
Huskies head coach Jerry Kill said Grady's progression as a passer since the day he stepped on the NIU campus three years ago is a "phenomenal story." Over the last two years, Grady has gone 5-0 as a starter but has more than twice as many carries (98 for 518 yards) than completions (40 of 69 attempts).
To earn the starting spot over two-year incumbent Chandler Harnish – Grady was the first-stringer through the spring as Harnish recovered from a knee injury and continues to take reps with the first team during training camp – Grady will need to prove to his coaches that he can be a reliable passer.
"I thought DeMarcus took some strides this spring doing that because he had to do it. He was the guy," Kill said. "I'm sure he feels he's the guy right now, which that's great. We'll see as practice goes along here how it works out in the long run, but there's no question he's made strides."
So what's behind Grady's improvement?
"More confidence trusting my throws," Grady said. "Just doing what feels comfortable to me, not thinking about my mechanics so much. I just have to trust it because I put in the work over the summer and years past in trying to improve my throwing."
He also improved chemistry with several Huskies wide receivers – including Landon Cox, Willie Clark, Nathan Palmer, Martel Moore and Perez Ashford – who stayed on campus for most of the summer with Grady, Harnish and junior college transfer Casey Weston.
Even Harnish, Grady's main competitor for the starting spot, has noticed Grady's progression.
"He's always had a great arm, but the great thing about him is his mental game has improved greatly," Harnish said. "He's able to read coverages and take proper drops. When you do that, your feet are right and you're going to make good throws, and that's what he's been doing."
NIU offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said Grady has "gone from being an athletic kid that can throw the ball to a quarterback," one whom the coaches are going to give every opportunity to win the starting job leading up to the season opener at Iowa State on Sept. 2.
"DeMarcus has definitely put himself in that kind of spot where he's done everything we've asked of him," Limegrover said. "Now it's a matter of the consistency from here leading up to that first game. That's his challenge."