DeKALB – At halftime of Saturday’s spring game, Northern Illinois football coach Dave Doeren reminded his team at halftime that the next time it would reconvene in uniform would be Sept. 1, at Soldier Field against Iowa.
But before NIU puts the longest winning streak in the country – nine games – on the line against the Hawkeyes, here is where the Huskies stand in a few key areas after 15 spring practices:
Not much is settled on the offensive line
Logan Pegram is NIU’s left guard. After that, and as expected, it still is anybody’s guess who makes up the other four starters on the offensive line for the season opener.
Ryan Brown and Matt Krempel impressed Doeren during the spring at the two tackle positions, while Matt Battaglia did the same at guard. Michael Gegner was the No. 1 center throughout the spring, but Andrew Ness has the potential to win the job in the fall.
With Jared Volk and Tyler Loos set to return from injury and seven new offensive linemen from NIU’s recruiting class joining the Huskies for camp, there is going to be significant competition on the line.
RBs have work to do
Running back was an up-and-down group throughout the spring. But in the spring game, the group as a whole took a step backward. Fumble problems that showed up at times during scrimmages didn’t disappear Saturday.
“At running back I thought all those guys struggled. We practiced a lot better at running back than we played [Saturday],” Doeren said after Saturday’s game. “That was probably my biggest disappointment.”
Junior Leighton Settle, junior Akeem Daniels, senior Jamal Womble and even sophomore transfer Giorgio Bowers could contend for playing time.
“I have a lot of improvements to make still,” Daniels said. “I’ve got a long offseason for that, so I’ve got to make sure I do that.”
Lynch is ready to go
If there were any questions about quarterback Jordan Lynch’s ability to get the team to rally behind him in his first year starting, those answers came quickly. He grew more comfortable in the offense with NIU having only two quarterbacks in the spring. Lynch showed command and poise, and his teammates publicly have said this is his team to lead.
“Lynch has been doing a great job,” linebacker Tyrone Clark said. “He’s been stepping up and making good throws, leading the offense. He’s been doing a good job and I’m excited to see how the fall will go.”
No worries on Butler, Clark
The returns of linebackers Devon Butler (redshirt after being shot last April) and Clark (yearlong suspension) went about as smoothly as possible. The two reclaimed their spots with the No. 1 group and didn’t relinquish them, staying healthy in the process.
“It’s been a grind,” Clark said. “But we made it through it, had a lot of fun through the process and got better.”
The biggest question in the linebacker corps is now Jamaal Bass, who is due in court Wednesday for a pretrial hearing for his assault charges stemming from running into a Toledo band member Nov. 1.
Lewis a major threat
Tommylee Lewis exploded onto the scene last season on special teams, returning two kickoffs for touchdowns against Toledo. This spring, the 5-foot-7 speedy receiver showed off what he can do catching passes. Saturday, Lewis caught seven passes for 98 yards and made several defenders miss in the open field.
“It’s all a learning process,” Lewis said. “That’s how I see it. When you get a chance, you have to make the best of it.”