With spring practices set to start a week from today, we'll be taking a look at the Huskies, position group by position group, entering spring football. Today: NIU's offensive line.
When the International Bowl finished on Jan. 2, it was the end of an era for the Northern Illinois offensive line.
Seniors Eddie Adamski and Jason Onyebuagu, starters for what seemed like forever, played their final game in a Huskie uniform. Adamski finished his career with 49 starts, including 42 straight to end the center's career. Onyebuagu played in all 51 games in his career, including 39 starts. The left guard was unquestionably one of the leaders of the entire team and played through a foot injury most of his senior season.
On top of that, right tackle Panan Tense, who started the final two games of the season, left the team to go take an internship in Springfield.
So the Huskies have to replace two stalwarts and a player who provided some important depth, especially once Adam Kiel went out with a foot injury. Whichever five linemen step out on the field in 2010 for the Huskies will have a lot to live up to.
The NIU offensive line turned in a memorable 2009. For the regular season, it led the MAC in fewest sacks allowed with 14. The 418 rushing yards it helped pave the way for against Eastern Michigan was the best rushing game in school history since 1995. NIU's rushing attack was the best in the conference last season.
So, let's get to it with this year's offensive line.
Projected (projections are mine, not that of the coaches) starters: LT Trevor Olson (Rs. Jr.), LG Up for grabs, C Scott Wedige (Rs. Jr.), RG Joe Pawlak (Rs. Jr.), RT Adam Kiel (Rs. Sr.)
Backups: G Ed Jackson (Rs. Sr.), OL Matt Krempel (Rs. Fr.), OL Jared Volk (Rs. Fr), T Keith Otis (Rs. Jr.) G Logan Pegram (Rs. Jr.), OL Jon Phillips (Rs. Fr.)
Fall wildcards: Matt Battaglia (6-4, 270, So.), Michael Gegner (6-3, 265, Fr.), Blake Goodell (6-3, 265, Fr.), Tyler Loos (6-6, 270, Fr.), Tyler Pitt (6-6, 270, Fr.).
What to watch for: Krempel and Volk were hugely impressive during last year's fall camp despite overwhelming odds that they would be redshirted. That said something to me that those two were able to make plays that warranted a good amount of snaps in camp even though they most likely knew they weren't going to play in 2009. With their redshirt seasons complete, they have a chance to make an even bigger impression on the coaching staff.
Now the only question is, where do the coaches slot those two? I think left guard is one of a few positions (along with No. 2 RB, K and at this point QB) that truly is up for grabs this spring and probably into the fall. Volk played backup center during camp with Adamski ailing and Krempel saw action at right tackle. We'll find out a week from today if they stay at those spots or if one or both play for a spot at guard.
Scott Wedige has seemingly been the center in waiting and how he handles the snaps will be something to look out for. Trevor Olson's continued development at left tackle should be interesting to watch. He has started every game at left tackle for the past two seasons.
Kiel's health is another thing to keep an eye on after having foot surgery late in the season.
2009 highlights: In addition to what was mentioned above, NIU started the same players on the offensive line for the first 11 games of the season... The Huskies led the MAC in rushing offense with 195.2 yards a game... Toledo and Western Michigan went without a sack against NIU... The Huskes went 44 of 47 in the red zone.... Onyebuagu returned the opening kickoff of the Western Michigan game for seven yards.
2009 lowlights: The Huskies allowed two sacks and ended with quarterback Chandler Harnish as the leading rusher in a home loss to Idaho... South Florida had five tackles for loss in the International Bowl and defensive ends George Selvie and Jason Pierre-Paul, both NFL prospects, were flat-out dominant in that game... Needing a critical first down late against Ohio, the Huskies couldn't push the Bobcats to gain a yard and turned the ball over on downs.
2010HuskieWire predictions: Without Adamski and Onyebuagu, the offensive line comes down to Earth. NIU will still be one of the top rushing teams in the MAC and its offensive line will be a big reason why, but you won't see the video-game like numbers this season. The Huskies will give up more sacks.
Olson, long underrated in the conference, makes First Team All-MAC. A freshman (either redshirt or true) starts next to Olson. This is a unit that probably will struggle at first against BCS teams in Iowa State, Illinois and Minnesota, but should improve as the year progresses and the newer faces gain experience.