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The new breed: Huskies to usher in next wave of linemen

Northern Illinois’ Jake Coffman goes for the ball during a spring football practice at Huskie Stadium on March 24. Beck Diefenbach  –
Northern Illinois’ Jake Coffman goes for the ball during a spring football practice at Huskie Stadium on March 24. Beck Diefenbach –

DeKALB – All together now.

“You can never replace a guy like [former defensive end] Larry [English],” Northern Illinois defensive end Jake Coffman said.

“You can’t replace a guy like Larry,” defensive line coach Jeff Phelps said. “I think everybody understands that and knows that.”

So, what’s the solution?

“Everybody asks me ‘How are you going to replace Larry?’ Well, you don’t,” NIU coach Jerry Kill said. “You don’t replace any of those great players I’ve ever coached. You get two players to replace him.”

Or, in NIU’s case, the development of three or four defensive linemen won’t hurt, either.

Kill and his staff signed seven defensive linemen on National Signing Day after losing the two-time MAC MVP in English, plus starters Craig Rusch and Alex Krutsch to graduation. The Huskies will spend spring practice, which continued into its second week on Tuesday at Huskie Stadium, plus two-a-day camp in the fall to try and meet two objectives on the defensive line.

First, they want to replace the lost depth so they can keep rotating eight or nine defensive linemen like they were able to last season. Signing seven defensive linemen was the first step they took. Junior college transfer Kyle Jenkins already has done enough to impress the coaches in four spring practices that he’s getting reps with the second team.

“He’s got a body type similar to Craig Rusch so he can add that body type back into it and we’re excited about that,” Phelps said. “It’s more of a learning process now.”

Senior Darnell Bolding also moved from linebacker to defensive end.

“We want to create some speed guys,” Kill said. “[Bolding] was in a position where he was thinking a lot. We just thought ‘He’s an athlete. Let’s get him on the field where he can be productive.’”

Bolding said the coaches approached him with the position change, and he likes it so far.

“It’s a little tough but it’s coming along day by day,” Bolding said. “I think they want both speed guys and ones who can be psychical on the run.”

Second, the coaching staff wants to make sure the players they start with are productive enough that there’s no drop-off from the MAC’s top scoring defense from a year ago.

End Brandon Bice was a third team All-MAC player last season and Mike Krause and D.J. Pirkle have started spring ball as the top two defensive tackles, with sophomore Adam Coleman occasionally rotating in with the No. 1 group.

At the other end is Coffman, who didn’t play in the first two games last season but ended his sophomore year with a sack and a tackle for loss at the Independence Bowl.

“Jake is coming off a great bowl appearance and he did some really nice things that opened our eyes and we can say ‘Hey, this guy can come off the edge and do some things in the pass rush game.,’” Phelps said.

Coffman said the 2009 season will be a different one without English, but the second year under Kill’s coaching staff should go smoother than the first, allowing for time to develop the defensive line.

“The coaches know what we can do now and what we can produce,” Coffman said.

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