With spring practices set to start in less than a week, we'll be taking a look at the Huskies, position group by position group, entering spring football. Today: NIU's linebackers.
Linebacker is one of the positions that is going to be more exciting to watch in the fall than in the spring.
It will be a group this spring that is missing a heralded freshman class and I think some spots are pretty settled. You know what Alex Kube is capable of and he'll be the senior leader on the strong side. Jordan Delegal seems to be the ideal player to replace Cory Hanson on the weak side and I think, with a year of experience at this level, Delegal is poised to have a big season.
With that, a quick look at NIU's linebackers entering the spring (projections are mine, not that of the coaches)...
Projected starters: SLB Alex Kube (Rs. Sr.), MLB Pat Schiller (Rs. Jr.), WLB Jordan Delegal (Jr.).
Backups: Tyrone Clark (Soph.), Devon Butler (Soph.), Victor Jacques (Rs. Soph.), Dan Edem (Rs. So.), George Rainey (Rs. Fr), Ross Elliott (Rs. Fr.), Gervaise Porter (Rs. Fr)
Fall wildcards: Greg Barksdale (6-2, 210, Fr.), Jamaal Bass (6-0, 210, Fr.), Mike Hellams (6-1, 220, Fr.), Cameron Stingily (6-2, 240, Fr.)
What to watch for: Without a full complement of linebackers and the four freshmen not showing up until the summer, there are plenty of opportunities and players like Delegal, Clark, Butler, Jacques, Edem and Rainey are going to get a lot of reps and have a big opportunity to show the coaches what they're capable of.
Jacques had a big spring last season but couldn't turn it into significant playing time. Edem showed growth at linebacker after moving from tight end and Delegal made a handful of big plays for the Huskies.
As freshmen, Butler and Clark combined for six tackles, a forced fumble, fumble recovery, sack and tackle for loss against Western Illinois and Purdue. Then injuries forced the two to combine for seven tackles and five missed games over the next seven contests. If those two stay healthy, they can make a big impact for the Huskies.
Rainey, a Proposition 48 player, is now ready to go and his development will be something to keep an eye on throughout the 15 spring practices.
2009 highlights: Cory Hanson hauled in two interceptions at Wisconsin... Delegal blocked a punt against Idaho, setting NIU up for a potential comeback win... The linebacking corps played a huge role in allowing Akron and Eastern Michigan to gain only eight first downs apiece... Kube recorded six tackles for loss, tops among NIU linebackers.
2009 lowlights: After stating one its goals of making more plays on balls in the air, NIU's linebackers combined for only three interceptions (Hanson had all three) and broke up nine passes (Hanson had four)... Not one linebacker was named All-MAC... Central Michigan quarterback Dan LeFevour did his usual shredding of NIU's defense, including converting 12 of 18 third downs.
2010 HuskieWire prediction: Two of the incoming freshmen work their way into the rotation and a faster, stronger linebacking corps does a better job in coverage and being ballhawks. Four linebackers get at least 25 solo tackles (two did last season), but some of the young players will make critical mistakes. This will be a solid if not unspectacular group for a good defense.