Created:Wednesday, April 20, 2011 5:30 a.m.CDT

Wells filling into new role

Defensive lineman Anthony Wells practices a rushing technique with defensive line coach Ryan Nielsen during practice April 9 at Huskie Stadium in DeKalb. Wells is growing into a defensive tackle’s body after switching from defensive end. (Kyle Bursaw –

DeKALB – Anthony Wells and Nabal Jefferson line up next to each other on the inside of Northern Illinois' defensive line, and the contrast couldn't be more obvious.

Jefferson is short and stout, a 5-foot-11, 287-pound bowling ball. Wells, who looks athletic even when he's standing still, is a long 6-3, 260.

One of these players clearly was born to play defensive tackle. At a position where body size and shape means everything, the bigger, rounder Jefferson looks at home. Wells looks like the beginner he is, someone whose dynamic potential is only overmatched by his lack of experience.

And even though Wells has gained almost 15 pounds since the end of last season, he still is growing into a defensive tackle's body after switching from defensive end.

"He's trying to put on as much weight as he can," NIU defensive end Sean Progar said of Wells. "Every time I see him, he's eating. In the locker room, when we're walking to class, wherever."

Up until this spring, Wells was a defensive end. It wasn't his position as much as it was his identity. He'd played defensive end since he was 6 years old. He rode defensive end to a college scholarship.

He never thought he'd move inside the defensive line.

That's exactly what position coach Ryan Nielsen asked him to do during a February meeting.

"At first it was a little bit shocking to me," Wells said. "It just wowed me. Like, really? I couldn't believe it. No more defensive end. It was something that I really didn't expect.

"I've been talking to a lot of people. Some people say it might turn out to be a blessing in disguise. You never know."

The move was bittersweet, but Wells said he never complained. He knew it was an opportunity to get more playing time, while giving the Huskies much-needed depth at defensive tackle.

Nielsen said he's been pleased with Wells' competitiveness. The redshirt sophomore has spent time on the Huskies' first- and second-team defenses this spring, getting a lot of reps to develop experience. He played primarily on the second team Tuesday morning, behind Jefferson and Frank Boenzi.

Doeren said he's impressed with how Wells' defensive-end athleticism translates to defensive tackle, specifically with his quick reaction to the snap. But more than that, Doeren said, Wells' unselfish willingness set a good example for the team.

"As a player, you've got to understand there's me and then there's the team," Doeren said. "When you put the team in front of me, a lot of good things can happen for a lot of people. [Wells is] doing that, and it's going to pay off for all of us."

Wells, who is listed on NIU's roster at 248 pounds, said his target weight by the start of next season is 275. To get there, he's eating – a lot.

He gobbles fried chicken. He downs potatoes.

"Basically anything that will stick on you," Wells said.

"He's such a big guy, he can handle it no problem," Nielsen said. "Ten or 15 more pounds, that's no problem for him. He's got a big lower half, his legs, he's got big shoulders. So he can put it on no problem."

One of the people Wells texted first after his meeting with Nielsen was Progar. A mentor to many on NIU's defensive line, Progar told Wells to stay positive. He urged him to look at it as a way to get more playing time. Wells told Progar he would.

"At first I think he was a little bit worried about it," Progar said. "But since then, he's been balling out at the position. I think it was a good move for him. I think we're going to get him on the field for sure now. He's been doing a great job pass rushing from inside. He's just getting better and better."

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