DeKALB – Da’Ron Brown couldn’t help but smile.
“There’s a lot of potential,” the Northern Illinois sophomore receiver said just after Monday’s football practice at Huskie Stadium.
Brown spoke about NIU’s receiving corps, the only position group on offense that has significantly experienced depth. The Huskies return eight of their top 11 pass catchers from a year ago, including receivers Martel Moore, Perez Ashford, Brown, Jamison Wells and Anthony Johnson, plus special teams standout Tommylee Lewis.
With so many potential returning players in an offense that rewarded multiple options, a competition that won’t see its finish line until fall camp is under way in spring practice.
“People are competing for spots every single day,” said Ashford, coming off a 47-catch, 530-yard season. “It makes practices more intense and better. But everybody’s getting better.”
Moore (47 catches, 747 yards and seven touchdowns in 2011) and Ashford, seniors who have played since they were true freshmen, likely are entrenched as the top two options for quarterback Jordan Lynch.
After that, it’s anybody’s guess who steps into the next few spots.
“It’s: ‘Who is going to be the third and fourth guy production-wise now?’ ” NIU coach Dave Doeren said. “Tommylee has really stepped his game up, and Jamison Wells was with us today, it’s good to have him back from his baseball. Da’Ron Brown hasn’t jumped out yet, but I know he’s a guy that (receivers) coach (Frisman) Jackson has been excited about.”
Ashford and Brown credited Jackson, a first-year coach and NIU alum who also played for the Cleveland Browns, for bringing something new to the receiver meetings.
“He’s played the position, so he brings a players’ perspective to the plays,” Doeren said. “It’s one thing to be able to teach them a playbook and coach football to them, it’s another when you’ve walked in their shoes.”
Ashford added that route running has been the main focus in the film room, while Brown says he thinks Jackson has made him realize how important a little thing such as finishing a block is to the success of a play.
“Coach Jackson is teaching us a lot of new things, using our hands a lot and really going up for the ball and making plays,” Ashford said. “He’s putting a lot of emphasis on that.”
Whoever does that the best before the season opener against Iowa has the potential to see plenty of playing time at Soldier Field.
“It’s good competition, so it will be tough,” Brown said. “I’m just trying to get a spot and play a role.”