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Spring football practice report

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(Beck Diefenbach – bdiefenbach@daily-chronicle.com)
Northern Illinois wide receiver Willie Clark makes a catch during Tuesday morning's practice.

Greetings from the first day of spring football. There's a lot to talk about after the first practice.

First, one of the hot topics of conversation from the offseason was the enrollment of Miles Smith. Smith, the son of Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith, was a preferred walk-on linebacker at Missouri before enrolling this winter at NIU. Now, it appears Miles Smith wants to get an early jump-start on his own coaching career, as he is a volunteer assistant in the football operations office.

"It's good," NIU coach Jerry Kill said. "He's a student and it gives him a chance to be a part of the game."

Also, the following players on last year's roster are no longer with the team:

DE/FB Anthony Antonacci

LB Kendal Farlow

CB Kordero Hunter

S Jeff Fontana

DB Ricardo Patton

DE Maurice Coon

S Justin Stewart

RB Brandon Lewis

OL Jake Wertz

FB Connor Krisch

Antonacci, Fontana and Stewart all dealt with injuries throughout their careers and, from a health standpoint, it was a better decision to walk away.

NIU also has a few position changes. Fullback Victor Jacques will now try linebacker, but Kill hasn't ruled out a return to fullback. Kill was high on Jacques before last season, but Kyle Skarb and Connor Flahive emerged ahead of Jacques. Defensive backs Spencer Williamson and David Pratt have moved to linebacker.

Quarterback Chandler Harnish led the No. 1 offense. He feels like it's his job to lose and I'll have an in-depth story about his offseason in tomorrow's Daily Chronicle.

At offensive line, it appears that either Kevin Skatrud or Panan Tense will be in the top spot at right guard. But it's early and the Huskies were using various linemen there. Skatrud, Tony Holmes and Adam Kiel split time at right tackle with the top groups. NIU has to find replacements at right guard and right tackle with Dan Keller and Jon Brost graduating.

The top three wide receivers at this point appear to Nate Palmer, Willie Clark and Landon Cox.Marcus Lewis made arguably the catch of the day on a pass from Brandon Rogers. Lewis did a nice job of waiting until the last minute to turn around and defensive back Donald Smith couldn't get his arms up in time to block the ball. Defensive back Rashaan Melvin did a great job on the next play of reading quarterback DeMarcus Grady, then picking him off, setting off a massive celebration from the defense.

One of the other big questions surrounding the team is who will lead it? With defensive end Larry English gone, he leaves a huge gap in leadership. Kill has an interesting approach as to how leaders will emerge on this season's team. You can hear all about it later today when we upload a video interview with him.

Running back Me'co Brown said he added eight pounds to his frame in the offseason and lost some body fat. Kill had said in recent weeks that he felt as if Brown hit the proverbial freshman wall, something Brown slightly disagreed with. The sophomore running back said he has set a few goals for spring practice.

"Every day I want to work on what I messed up on in that practice," Brown said. "After class I'll come in and watch film and watch my footwork and rehearse it through my head on the field. That way, when I get on the field, it'll be like secondhand to me."

Finally, it was hard to ignore some of the booming punts from junior college transfer Josh Wilber. Kill said he has to learn how to kick with some of the swirling winds at Huskie Stadium, but likes the power Wilber can put behind some of his punts. We'll see if Wilber starts doing the rugby-style punt that has drawn the ire of more than a few fans.

Come back this afternoon for a video interview with Kill.

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