If there's an athletic event where score is irrelevant, it's the college football spring game. That's particularly true when a team's starters play the backups, as was the case at Huskie Stadium today.
So while NIU's Red team dismantled the White 35-6, the real value Saturday was the chance for Huskies coach Dave Doeren to see a couple position battles shuffle out on the field with live contact.
After Thursday morning's practice, Doeren said he was specifically looking at tight end, running back and defensive tackle. When Devon Butler confirmed Friday he will miss the 2011 season, middle linebacker also become a position up for grabs.
Here's a look at how those four position battles played out Saturday:
After the game, Doeren told the Daily Chronicle that starting tight end and Sycamore graduate Jason Schepler will miss the 2011 season with a torn ACL. Schepler, who will use his redshirt, suffered the injury during a scrimmage near the end of practice April 17.
"As an offensive unit it's a big deal, because Schepler is a leader and he works his butt off and is a great player," Harnish said. "But we do have guys who will step up and take his place."
Jack Marks and Luke Eakes were the two tight ends on the Red team. Cameron Bell, recently moved from tailback, played on the White.
Marks, a fifth-year senior, is the most experienced. Bell may have the most potential, as was seen Saturday when he took a 10-yard out-route catch and stretched it into almost 30. It was the same route Bell ran when he dropped a pass Thursday morning. This time, he looked more comfortable, and that will happen the more he learns.
The spring's most intense position battle seems to have found some order and clarity.
Doeren said Jasmin Hopkins has established himself as the No. 1 running back entering the summer, crediting the consistency he's brought each day to practice. Hopkins is leading the pack of four running backs that includes Akeem Daniels, Jamal Womble and Leighton Settle.
"I think Jas right now is the guy going in (to fall camp), and not to say the other guys aren't going to rotate a lot – they are," Doeren said. "But as we start the fall camp, he's the one that's been the most consistent to me day in and day out when you take protection into it, and running the football, catching the football.
"If you're going to be out there, you have to be a consistent guy. And Jas has been the most consistent out there."
Strictly judging who's gotten the first-team reps and carries, the depth chart heading into the summer looks like Hopkins, Daniels, Womble, Settle. But Hopkins said he's not resting on where he's at right now.
"Honestly, I don't take compliments right now," Hopkins said. "I'm just looking forward to coming out, competing every day. You let down one time, with Akeem and Jamal your spot can be gone just like that. We all look forward to coming out here each and every day. So basically right now, the most consistent is going to be the one to play this year."
When asked what he saw at defensive tackle, Doeren quickly complimented Anthony Wells.
"You continue to see Wells in the backfield, a lot," Doeren said. "Anthony Wells is the guy that we were hoping could do that, lot of penetration."
While Frank Boenzi started on NIU's Red team, Wells may have had the best day of any player who exclusively lined up for the White. He routinely disrupted plays in the backfield and recovered a fumble that led to the White's first field goal. With his athleticism, Wells often looked unblockable in man-on-man schemes.
But there are too many unknowns right now to be able to predict who will be the starter when NIU opens against Army on Sept. 3. Wells is still trying to gain 10 to 15 more pounds before the fall. Ron Newcomb has been out this spring and is expected to compete hard for the starting role.
But one thing is sure: Wells didn't hurt his chances Saturday.
The position battle at middle linebacker is just beginning.
Even though Victor Jacques started for the Red team, and has gotten most of the first-team reps the past few practices, a starter won't emerge until the fall. Mike Hellams, who started on the White, is still in the mix, and Cameron Stingley is in the process of returning from an injury.
"There's going to be a really fierce competition at that position between Stingley and Victor and Hellams," Doeren said.
As NIU enters the summer, Jacques said he'll continue to work toward becoming the Huskies' regular starter in the middle.
"I'm always going to work toward that. That's always the goal," Jacques said. "That's how I'm going to approach the summer. That's how I'm going to approach every day when I come out. It's a learning process every day."
Updated 6:05 p.m: NIU sent out unofficial stats from today's game, they are below.
Red - Jasmin Hopkins 1-yard run (Sims kick)
Red - Martel Moore 57-yard pass from Chandler Harnish (Sims kick)
White - Ryan Fillingim 38-yard FG
Red – Chandler Harnish 13-yard run (Sims kick)
Red - Akeem Daniels 1-yard TD run (Sims kick)
White - Ryan Fillingim 37-yard FG
Red - Da’Ron Brown 3-yard pass from Chandler Harnish (Sims kick)
PASSING Comp Att Yds INT TD Long
12 Chandler Harnish 18 25 180 0 2 57
6 Jordan Lynch 14 22 148 1 0 29
RUSHING Carries Yds TD
30 Akeem Daniels 11 64 1
23 Leighton Settle 11 60 0
25 Jasmin Hopkins 10 46 1
5 Jamal Womble 11 36 0
26 Trevor Jacobs 4 15 0
12 Chandler Harnish 8 6 1
10 Willie Clark 1 4 0
20 James Spencer 2 1 0
29 Devon Bailey 4 -1 0
22 Jamison Wells 1 -2 0
6 Jordan Lynch 3 -6 0
RECEIVING Catches Yds TD
7 Perez Ashford 6 70 0
81 Nathan Palmer 5 40 0
1 Martel Moore 5 82 1
4 Da’Ron Brown 5 54 1
10 Willie Clark 4 18 0
30 Akeem Daniels 2 7 0
3 DeMarcus Grady 1 20 0
32 Cameron Bell 1 18 0
86 Mack Tracey 1 14 0
23 Leighton Settle 1 3 0
22 Jamison Wells 1 2 0