Created:Monday, August 22, 2011 5:30 a.m.CDT
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Ten things to watch after fall camp

By RYAN WOOD - rwood@shawmedia.com
Northern Illinois running back Jamal Womble heads up the field during Saturday's scrimmage at Huskie Stadium. (Kyle Bursaw – kbursaw@shawmedia.com)

DeKALB – I think Jordan Delegal summed it up best.

“Two-a-days is a long, a long, a long vigorous process,” Delegal said. “At the end of it you look back, and you think that it goes fast. But I think the memories will stay forever.”

Delegal is right. The first fall camp of coach Dave Doeren’s tenure gave us plenty to remember.

Here are 10 things to keep in mind entering the season.

1. The no-huddle was the right decision

We saw glimpses of it during Saturday’s camp-closing scrimmage. NIU’s offense ran downhill, and it kept coming in waves. The Huskie defense had a few starters on the sideline, but I don’t think it would’ve mattered who the offense was lined up against. Running a play every 20-25 seconds takes a toll on anybody.

2. This secondary is legit

Before camp, free safety Tommy Davis was the only player you knew you could feel good about. Not anymore. Junior cornerback Rashaan Melvin could be an all-conference contender. Fellow corner, sophomore Dominique Ware, is as steady as it gets. Strong safety Demetrius Stone, who like Ware can sometimes be overshadowed, has a knack for the football. As always, much of the pass defense depends on the pass rush. But I expect NIU’s secondary to be a strength this fall.

3. Anthony Johnson has star potential

Receiver is this team’s deepest, most talented position, and none of them approach Johnson’s potential. At 6-foot-3, 190 pounds, Johnson wins most jump balls against smaller cornerbacks. He also has the speed to beat them deep.

During practice Friday, he ran a simple post route past Ware and caught Chandler Harnish’s pass in stride for a touchdown. It looked easy, even though it wasn’t.

Johnson isn’t NIU’s best receiver right now. If he keeps developing, he could be a star.

4. Jamal Womble should be better

Strictly in terms of on-field production, I’m not sure there is a more frustrating player for the coaches than Womble. I saw him get every opportunity early in camp to take the No. 2 running back spot. I’m not sure whether Womble was banged up – Doeren isn’t an open book when it comes to injuries – but he was out there. The reps were there. He never stepped up.

It’s not that Womble played poorly. When he’s running hard, he runs over defenders. He’s a good red zone and short-yardage option. But with his size, speed and history, you’d expect him to dominate the Mid-American Conference. Womble isn’t there yet.

5. The freshmen receivers could start elsewhere

I spent the past few seasons covering Ball State’s football team. Granted, the Cardinals have turned into a MAC bottom-dweller. But I’ll tell you, freshmen A.J. Sebastiano, Tommylee Lewis and Juwan Brescacin – any of those three – could have walked into their camp and immediately been their most talented receiver. There is still a chance Sebastiano and Lewis could play this season. If any of them are redshirted, it’s an amazing testament to the receiving depth.

“I think the future is bright at that position,” Doeren said. “We needed to recruit well because we’ve got three really good seniors this year at that position. When they leave, we wanted to have Tommylee, A.J. and Juwan ready to play. I think people saw (Saturday) that the future is going to be OK when those three (seniors) are gone.”

6. Defensive line depth a concern

The starters will be fine. Defensive ends Sean Progar and Joe Windsor and defensive tackles Nabal Jefferson and Anthony Wells are talented. But any good defensive line works on a rotation. I think Donovan Gordon, Frank Boenzi and Ron Newcomb could be good at tackles. Kyle Jenkins is a capable backup at end. But that’s cutting it close.

What happens, in the worst-case scenario, if someone gets injured?

7. Not sure about strong side linebacker

Victor Jacques got enough first-team reps I expected him to be named starter well before now, and he hasn’t been. Jamaal Bass got so few first-team reps it seems unlikely he will be the guy. Either way, both are questionable.

8. Field position should be good

Punter Ryan Neir quickly ended any doubt he’d be the starter, showing a strong leg with plenty of hang time under his punts. Freshman kickoff specialist Tyler Wedel consistently boots the ball in the end zone.

9. Harnish is the luckiest man in the MAC

He has the best offensive line in the league. He has more receiving weapons than any quarterback in program history. And NIU’s running back quartet is ready to produce. A MAC quarterback couldn’t ask for anything more.

10. Doeren is ready

It’s been somewhat under appreciated, but Doeren has done a remarkable job so far. Athletics director Jeff Compher called it the best coaching transition he’s seen with a team already established, and it’s easy to see why. NIU’s players are disciplined. They’re the type who scoop up every incompletion like it’s a fumble, finish every run downfield and don’t walk on the field even after the whistle blows. I’m a big believer that if a team can take care of those things during practice, it can make sure the little things get done during the season. That ability is a direct reflection of the coach.

• Ryan Wood is a sports reporter for the Daily Chronicle. Write to him at rwood@shawmedia.com

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