Created: Thursday, August 30, 2012 5:30 a.m. CDT
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NIU confident in young offensive line

By STEVE NITZ - snitz@shawmedia.com
Northern Illinois offensive lineman Andrew Ness (55) participates in a blocking drill during practice Aug. 10 at Huskie Stadium in DeKalb. (Rob Winner — rwinner@shawmedia.com)

DeKALB – Northern Illinois’ offensive line is inexperienced, to say the least.

When the Huskies’ five starting lineman step on the Soldier Field grass Saturday, each will be starting a collegiate game for the first time.

In 2011, starting guards Aidan Conlon and Matthew Killian and center Andrew Ness were redshirted. Sophomore left tackle Tyler Loos missed the season with a knee injury and junior right tackle Matt Krempel was relegated to special teams play while seeing limited time as a backup offensive tackle.

The Huskies originally were planning on at least having one experienced player out there against Iowa, senior center Logan Pegram. However, he suffered a lower leg fracture during preseason camp and is out indefinitely.

To say NIU’s offensive line is a question mark going into a game against a Big Ten team is understandable. But coaches and members of the group say they’ve gotten a lot more comfortable since practice started.

“It’s all about that jell,” NIU offensive line coach Rod Carey said. “You’ve got to play together, you’ve got to have experience. You’ve got to make up for it with your mental football aptitude and you’ve got to be ready to go.”

What might get lost in the line’s development is that the unit goes up against an experienced Huskies defensive line in practice – a group that will start three seniors and a junior.

The starting line consisting of senior defensive ends Sean Progar and Alan Baxter, and tackles Nabal Jefferson and Ken Bishop should be one of NIU’s strengths in 2012.

“It helps. It helps against a team like Iowa, too,” NIU coach Dave Doeren said. “As strong as Iowa’s defensive line always is, we’re as strong as we could be at our program [on the defensive line] right now.”

Conlon said the Huskies’ defensive line very well could be better than the one NIU’s offense will face in Chicago.

“I don’t know if Iowa’s going to be any better than our D-line because they’re physical, they’re big, they’re strong,” Conlon said. “So I don’t doubt that [NIU’s line is] even better than them. It really helps.”

Doeren said Iowa has talked about blitzing more with first-year defensive coordinator Phil Parker now running the Hawkeyes’ defense. It’s possible the Hawkeyes could bring more pressure with an inexperienced Huskies offensive line.

To Doeren, that’s fine. He said blitzes play to NIU’s advantage with the team’s option running game. He said last season teams that usually blitzed didn’t do it too much against the Huskies for fear of giving up big plays.

“I hope they do,” Doeren said. “I think that’s something when you run the option and people blitz you, and I think they’re rolling the dice a little bit. That’s something we would love.”

Will the NIU football team play for the MAC title this year?
Yes
No
Too soon to tell