DeKALB – It’s no secret tight ends are asked to do a lot.
Whether it’s run blocking, pass blocking, running routes and catching passes or even playing special teams, even the basics can be a lot to handle.
For Northern Illinois sophomore and Sycamore graduate Jason Schepler, his freshman season went a little better than expected. One of only three freshmen to see playing time, Schepler was the No. 2 tight end, finishing the year with two catches for 15 yards, and he was a part of the kickoff return team.
“Coach [Jerry] Kill told me I was going to play but I didn’t know how much that was,” Schepler said. “That was more than I was expecting to play. It was a lot of fun.”
In his second season, Schepler’s goals are higher than just seeing the field. A few tweaks to NIU’s offense could make the path to those goals a little easier.
Last season, the Huskies’ offense, in the coaches estimation, too often went to the sidelines, leaving the middle of the field open to more passing and more downfield running. Opportunities should then naturally rise for the tight ends, including Schepler, senior Reed Cunningham and junior college transfer Nick Groeniger, who inked a National Letter of Intent on Wednesday to play with the Huskies according to Rivals.com.
At Thursday’s spring football practice at Huskie Stadium, the second one of the season for NIU, Schepler got more of a chance to show off his hands and route running, which he spent time working on during the offseason.
“After looking at it last year, there were some areas that we just moved left or right and we could have been in that window,” Schepler said. “I think after looking at the film last year we might be more of an option this year.”
Still without a scholarship, at least for now, the walk-on sophomore spent his offseason doing one of the only things a potential receiver can do to improve his hands – playing catch.
“It’s a matter of just catching balls,” tight ends coach Brian Anderson said. “You can be in the couch just throwing the ball straight in the air and catching it. That’s getting repetitions to me. You can have a plastic cup and you throw that up and down and that’s repetitions to me.”
One of the other important parts of Schepler’s development into a viable pass catcher is his route running. Anderson said Schepler’s ability to run routes “wasn’t terrible” in his freshman season, and the experience that comes with another season should help the sophomore.
“He’s a good athlete, that right there gave him a chance,” Anderson said. “Now it’s understanding coverage. Those things in itself will help him.”
Schepler agreed and said he’s noticed improvement, which is one reason why he’s been catching almost everything thrown at him during the first week of spring ball.
“I think it’s better than it was last year,” Schepler said. “There’s been improvement. Last year was learning the plays and now that I know the plays I can work more on the routes this year.”
What we saw
Northern Illinois is looking for a new holder on field goals and extra points and right now there are three candidates. Safety Mike Sobol is one and safety Jody Van Laanen is another. The one candidate who might raise some eyebrows is quarterback Chandler Harnish.
If the season started today, Harnish, the starting quarterback from last season, would be the holder, NIU coach Jerry Kill said after practice.
To those of you worried about a defender diving full speed into an unsuspecting Harnish, Kill doesn’t like it anymore than you do.
He is working with the other potential holders to try to develop a reliable one so Harnish doesn’t have to.
“If our kicker (Mike Salerno) had his choice, Chandler would be the holder,” Kill said. “And I don’t want that. We’ve done it before. I think everybody [makes a big deal over it] because of Tony Romo’s deal (injuring his finger on a busted PAT.) That’s the NFL. We’re not the NFL.”
For the full practice report, plus a video interview with NIU senior guard Jason Onyebuagu go to daily-chronicle.com/blogs/huskie_wire/