DeKALB – The coaches have watched film since February’s signing day, but Northern Illinois’ defense spent its first practice segment of fall camp preparing for its Sept. 3 season opener against Army on Wednesday.
In the final 20 minutes of afternoon practice, NIU’s offense and defense split to opposite ends of the Huskie Stadium field.
The defense faced a scout team led by “running back” Tyrone Clark.
Coach Dave Doeren said NIU discussed Army in “six or seven” spring practices. There also have been walkthroughs and position meetings focused on the season opener. But NIU took it a step further Wednesday, and it’s the clearest sign seen of an upcoming season.
“From this point on you’ll see it, if not every day, then every other,” Doeren said.
Doeren said practices won’t be strictly devoted to Army preparation until about 10 days before the game. Until then, practices will included 15- to 20-minute portions lined up against a scout team playing the Black Knights’ triple-option offense, which makes life difficult for opposing defenses to worry about three potential running options on a single play.
For junior defensive end Sean Progar, Wednesday wasn’t the first time he studied the triple option. Separately, Progar said he watched a lot of film over the summer. He added the defense as a whole has yet to spend a film session on the Black Knights.
“I think they’re going to wait until maybe a little bit at the end of this week and a little bit at the beginning of next week,” Progar said. “But I think me as a leader, I need to show the younger guys that that’s a big part of being a successful defensive player, especially when we’re going against an offense like that. I wanted to see it as much as I can on film before we came out here and did it.”
Doeren said playing a triple-option offense in the season opener changes how his team prepares. Few teams run their offense like Army, or even line up similarly before the snap. With that in mind, Doeren believes it’s worth spending the extra time.
“It is just because they’re unique,” Doeren said. “We don’t want them to be facing something they feel like they have five days to get ready for. So there’s been a lot of time spent on making them feel comfortable with what they have to see, and how to see it.”
As NIU gets closer to Sept. 3, its defensive players will better understand the complexities of Army’s offense. Right now, there is little more than a solid foundation.
Progar said he’s just happy to know the season is getting closer.
“It’s right around the corner,” Progar said, raising his eyebrows. “I know the guys feel it. You can see it when we come out to practice, especially when we go Army (time). Guys are geeked up and stuff, and I think that’s good. We’ve just got to stay focused, and I think we’ll be fine.”