At linebacker, it was a pretty quiet spring for Northern Illinois.
The only big change was Pat Schiller moving from middle linebacker to weakside linebacker, allowing sophomore-to-be Devon Butler to move into the starting slot at middle linebacker. Should Butler get hurt, Schiller can move back inside as he has plenty of experience there. Butler made the most noise this spring (more on that later) with his progress.
Jordan Delegal continued his development on the weakside, culminating in two interceptions and a pass breakup in the final spring scrimmage.
NIU coach Jerry Kill has hinted that at least one of the four linebackers the Huskies signed in February will have to play this season to provide enough depth.
With that, let’s hand out some hardware to the linebackers for the spring.
MVP: Alex Kube
On the field, Kube has only a handful of things to work on to reach his full potential – making quicker reads, being more efficient in shedding blockers, etc.
Away from the action, Kube has seemingly always wanted to be the guy other players look to and count on for direction, but held so much respect for the seniors that he didn’t force himself into that position. As a senior-to-be, he fully embraced that role this spring and unquestionably is the emotional leader of the linebackers. Look for him to have another very productive year in the fall.
Most improved: Devon Butler
Butler has stepped in at middle linebacker and just makes play after play after play. His blitzing, open-field tackling and skill in pass coverage all improved this spring. He looks like a natural fit in defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys’ defense.
Breakout star: Butler
Dual honors for Butler here. He’s settled into the role the coaches envisioned for Butler when they recruited him. Get used to seeing him as NIU’s middle linebacker for the next three seasons.
Needs to improve: Victor Jacques
Last spring, when Jacques made a splash in switching from fullback to middle linebacker, he looked poised to make an impact. A year later, his spot remains the same and he’ll compete with freshmen for playing time.
Post-spring depth chart: SLB Alex Kube, MLB Devon Butler, WLB Jordan Delegal. Backups: Tyrone Clark, Pat Schiller, Victor Jacques, Dan Edem, George Rainey, Ross Elliott, Gervaise Porter
Depth chart for season opener: The starters will remain the same, but look for one or two out of the freshmen group of Cameron Stingily, Mike Hellams, Greg Barksdale or Jamaal Bass to get into the rotation.
Quotable: “Now, being the starting middle linebacker, I have a lot of responsibilities. I can’t let my teammates down. If I don’t get there to watch film, I feel like I’ve let them down.” – Butler.