With redshirt senior Pat Schiller likely out until at least October with a knee injury, Northern Illinois must throw some freshmen linebackers to the wolves early in the season.
But thus far in training camp the Huskies coaches have been encouraged by a group of four true freshmen linebackers: Cameron Stingily, Mike Hellams, Jamaal Bass and Greg Barksdale.
"They've all really surprised me," NIU linebackers coach Tom Matukewicz said. "It's amazing how good athletically and just how they play the game. They're behind obviously, but they're certainly guys you say, 'Man, I'm glad we signed them.'"
Alex Kube and Devon Butler return as starters. Sophomore Tyrone Clark and junior Jordan Delegal will battle for the other starting spot. But the freshmen will be counted on for depth.
"The thing about college football is you're going to need nine backers," Matukewicz said. "I mean, I play seven in one game. You're going to need true nine because we're athletic guys, we're a little smaller so we're going to get banged up a little more than some, so you have to have a lot of guys."