DeKALB – In past years, Devon Butler got used to former Northern Illinois coach Jerry Kill’s aggressive style.
A former linebacker, Kill had a direct approach. Butler said Kill told players exactly what he thought, and how he thought it. When Kill yelled, Butler knew he better improve something immediately.
Under first-year coach Dave Doeren, Butler said he’s gotten used to a different style this spring.
“Coach Doeren, he’s more of a guy who will pull you aside and say, ‘You need to do this, this is your responsibility,’ ” Butler said. “There’s two ways you’ve got to take it. With coach Kill, when he yelled at you, you had to know he was trying to make you better. With coach Doeren he gets a different side of you, makes you calm and actually makes you think about your responsibilities.”
Doeren said he doesn’t know the differences between him and his predecessor. With his focus on making sure his players are learning his system, he’s had more important things on his mind.
That hasn’t stopped the players from noticing.
Their approach isn’t the only difference between Doeren and Kill. Butler said a Doeren practice also has more competition between offense and defense.
“Coach Doeren makes a big fact that you’re against them, they’re your enemy kind of thing,” Butler said. “So when we see white (jerseys), from the defense’s standpoint, we just think enemy. And the offense does the same thing.”
Doeren has made a habit of having one offensive and defensive player compete against each other in drills, with the losing side punished with physical conditioning.
When the defense kept the offense out of the end zone during a full-contact session Saturday, the offense stayed for up-downs while the defense was free to leave.
Throughout the first week, Doeren regularly complimented his players for being ready for practice. He said they line up each day before practice begins, ready to go on the field.
Safety Tommy Davis said some of that anticipation comes from the excitement to compete.
“You love competition,” Davis said. “When you’re out there, it’s early in the morning and it’s cold, you know it’s a chance for you to warm up, jump around, talk a little trash to guys. It makes you enjoy being out there. No one wants to get out there at 5:30 a.m. and run around in the cold, but if you compete and you’re really going at it, it’s a lot more fun.”
There are other differences between Doeren and Kill. While the plays and schemes are relatively similar, NIU quarterback Chandler Harnish said 75-80 percent of the offense has new terminology. He also said Doeren allows his position coaches to have more control, while Kill would often inject himself.
But the biggest difference seems to be the competition between offense and defense. Harnish said the change is beneficial.
“You come out here, and you want to treat spring practice just like a game,” Harnish said. “When one team loses, one team wins, and the other team gets ticked off. So we’ve got to work every day just to get better and compete, and when you compete you make everybody better.”