Spring Review: Quarterbacks

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Northern Illinois quarterback DeMarcus Grady unloads a pass during NIU's final spring practice on April 24 at Huskie Stadium. (Rob Winner – rwinner@daily-chronicle.com)

It's the most important position and it's the position most in flux for Northern Illinois.

Quarterback has seemingly been that way forever at NIU with injuries and rotations resulting in multiple quarterbacks in multiple games for the Huskies.

You know the names, just from the previous four seasons alone: Phil Horvath, Dan Nicholson, Ryan Morris, Chandler Harnish and DeMarcus Grady. All have seen significant time.

As I wrote many times before and during spring practices, the quarterback question wasn't going to be answered and probably would become even more muddled up by the end. That turned out to be more than true.

Harnish's injured knee suddenly started feeling better. Grady faced down high winds, cold and intermittent downpours to complete 18 of 32 passes during one scrimmage. Jordan Lynch went from the sidelines to staring down linebackers on open-field runs. And junior college quarterback Casey Weston looms away from DeKalb until he steps foot on campus this summer.

Before we get to a pure guess at what the depth chart will look like for the season-opener at Iowa State, let's hand out some spring hardware to the quarterbacks.

MVP: DeMarcus Grady

The final spring scrimmage aside, Grady was the only quarterback (other than Tommy Coughlin) to stay healthy for the entire spring, performed the best in the worst scrimmage weather and made some throws he hasn't made in his career at NIU.

I asked Grady after the final practice where he thinks he stands in the quarterback pecking order after 15 spring practices.

"Hopefully at the top," he said. "I feel like I opened up some eyes this spring. Some confidence grew on me amongst the coaches and my teammates I think. I just want to do whatever it takes to win."

Most improved: Chandler Harnish

Any time someone goes from certain surgery to maybe/likely not having surgery, that has to qualify as improvement. Harnish wasn't supposed to be a factor, or even on the field, this spring and he turned in the best performance of the final practice. On top of that, his deep and intermediate throws were a little better and he really wanted to be the guy players depend on. It was clearly the most vocal the incoming junior ever has been at practices.

As for the status of his injured/recovering right knee, Harnish didn't speak with reporters all spring, so I can only go on what I saw. He looked comfortable, took a few hits and bounced right back. We'll find out if Harnish will avoid surgery.

Breakout star: Jordan Lynch

Before the spring, NIU coach Jerry Kill said he wanted to find out more about Lynch as a quarterback (a potential move to safety was rumored before Lynch even stepped foot on campus) over 15 practices.

A hand injury that required stitches put that on hold for two weeks, but Lynch came back and performed consistently well, showing toughness and succeeding in the variety of situations the coaching staff puts the offense in during the course of a scrimmage. Lynch isn't afraid to step up in the pocket and take a hit, and he throws a catchable ball.

"I liked what I saw," Kill said during Tuesday's Mid-American Conference coaches teleconference. "He's definitely a very athletic young man and did a good job in the spring scrimmage at the last practice. He has a lot of ability and he's got a great future here, there's no question about that."

Needs to improve: A.J. Hill

Numbers-wise, Hill threw for more yards in one fewer completion and the same amount of attempts as Lynch. So why is Lynch listed under "breakout star" and Hill under "needs to improve?" Hill lacks the consistency in his throws that Lynch has. One throw, Hill fires it through a tight window and right at the numbers where only the receiver can get it. The next, it's skipping twice on the ground.

From a leadership standpoint, I think players rallied around Lynch more than they did Hill, but that might have had to do with the timing of Lynch and Hill's injuries. Lynch was hurt early, while there is a lot more individual and install work being done. Hill hurt an elbow late, when there's more focus on executing as a team. Hill is more than capable of leading, but he's a couple steps behind Lynch at this point.

Post-spring depth chart: Harnish, Grady, Lynch, Hill, Coughlin

Projected depth chart for Iowa State: Harnish, Weston/Grady, Lynch, Hill, Coughlin

I have about 50 percent confidence in this because Weston is such an unknown. He's spoken of highly by the coaching staff, but what recruit isn't?

Quotable: "We've got to develop a tougher mentality here and continue to get better. We have some depth at that position and the only way you're going to find out how they react is to put them in a game situation." – Kill on the NIU quarterbacks during Tuesday's MAC coaches teleconference.

Final spring passing stats:
Grady:
43-88, 496 yards, 4 TDs, 3 INTBest scrimmage: April 3: 18-32, 235 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INTWorst scrimmage: April 24: 4-12, 80 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT

Harnish: 13-34, 197 yards, 2 TD, 1 INTBest scrimmage: April 24: 9-16, 161 yards, 2 TD, 1 INTWorst scrimmage: April 16: 2-13, 18 yards

Lynch: 18-32, 172 yards, 1 INTBest scrimmage: April 16: 6-9, 78 yardsWorst scrimmage: April 10: 6-12, 36 yards, 1 INT

Hill: 17-32, 203 yards, 1 INTBest scrimmage: April 10: 9-14, 116 yards, 1 INTWorst scrimmage: April 3: 8-18, 87 yards

Coughlin: 6-9, 61 yardsBest scrimmage: April 24: 4-7, 49 yardsWorst scrimmage: April 10: 1-1, 6 yards

Who starts at quarterback to begin the season?
Chandler Harnish
DeMarcus Grady
Casey Weston
Jordan Lynch
A.J. Hill

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