Saturday, June 21, 2008

Football Preview of the day: ESPN

Breaking down the MAC West
By Adam Rittenberg

2007 overall record:


2007 conference record:

Returning starters
Offense: 9, defense: 9, kicker/punter: 1

Top returners
RB Justin Anderson, WR Matt Simon, RT Jon Brost, DE Larry English, SS Alex Kube, LB John Tranchitella
Key losses
LT Chris Acevedo, DT Zach Holycross, NG Adam Schroeder, SS Mark Reiter, PK Chris Nendick
2007 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Justin Anderson* (1,245 yds)
Passing: Dan Nicholson* (1,633 yds)
Receiving: Matt Simon* (969 yds)
Tackles: Alex Kube* (111)
Sacks: Larry English* (10.5)
Interceptions: John Tranchitella* and Chase Carter* (2)

Spring answers

1. Fueling the fire: The quarterback competition doesn't officially begin until the summer, when incumbent Dan Nicholson returns from a shoulder injury. But redshirt freshmen DeMarcus Grady and Chandler Harnish showed they'll be in the mix alongside Nicholson and Ryan Morris. Grady displayed top-shelf speed in the spring game, racing for a 57-yard touchdown. Harnish turned in an impressive spring despite struggling in the spring game itself (6-for-19 passing).

2. On the run: The team's streak of 1,000-yard rushers seemed to be in doubt last fall before Justin Anderson relieved the injured Montell Clanton and surged. This spring, Anderson guaranteed a 10th straight 1,000-yard performance from one of NIU's backs, an assurance that looks more and more promising. Anderson, Chad Spann and David Bryant all had their moments in spring ball, and with Clanton on the mend, the run game should once again be NIU's strength.

3. Quick start: Wide receiver Chase Mejia was the first freshman in coach Jerry Kill's inaugural recruiting class at NIU to enroll early in school. This spring, he showed why. As projected starters Matt Simon and Britt Davis sat out with injuries, Mejia turned heads with his ability to acclimate to the college game. "There's so much difference from high school to college, but the way he's picked things up is a tribute to his athleticism and work ethic," Simon told the Aurora Beacon News. "He's handled everything thrown at him very well."

Fall questions

1. Quarterback quandary: Despite handling most of the snaps last season, Nicholson will be playing catch-up in training camp after missing the spring with a shoulder injury. Challengers Grady, Harnish and Morris all showed positive signs during spring ball and will put pressure on Nicholson to retain his job. Incoming freshman Brandon Rogers also joins the mix.

2. Health watch: Kill got only a partial look at his new team because 22 players missed part or all of spring practice. Among those returning to the field this summer are Nicholson, Simon, Davis and league MVP Larry English. After injuries decimated the roster last season, Northern Illinois needs to go through training camp healthy, especially with new offensive and defensive systems to absorb.

3. Special deliveries: With nine starters back on each side of the ball, special teams will become a greater priority in training camp. NIU loses standout kicker Chris Nendick, a four-year starter who collected several league honors during his career. The spotlight shifts to junior Mike Salerno, who transferred to NIU from Winona State. Salerno drilled two 40-yard field goals in blustery conditions during the spring game and could step in nicely for Nendick. Several players will compete this summer for both the kickoff and punt return duties.

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