DeKALB – Northern Illinois coach Jerry Kill waited around for quarterback DeMarcus Grady just after Thursday's spring football practice at Huskie Stadium.
Kill had a simple message for Grady, the sophomore quarterback whose enigmatic role on the team seeks a little definition this spring.
"DeMarcus has got to approach this like he's been the starter," Kill said. "I just walked off the field and told him that."
There's one more reason why Grady's approach and ability to grasp the offense by the end of spring practice is important in a way that won't be seen, if at all, until the fall.
The tailoring the NIU coaches will do to the offense in their post-spring evaluations, including special packages and personnel, could heavily involve Grady if he can get down his primary position.
"If he can learn the quarterback position inside-out throughout the spring, that allows you to do something where maybe he can play a little inside receiver or something like that," Kill said. "But he's got to learn one thing at a time."
That's been the universal message from the coaching staff to Grady since the end of Independence Bowl practices, when Grady impressed the coaches with his reps while NIU prepared for the bowl game.
An expanded "Grady package" isn't out of the question as the NIU coaches aim to make the offense more dynamic.
"That's the talk," Grady said. "But I've just got to put myself in the best position. Nothing is guaranteed but as long as I continue to work and the coaches see me work they'll put me in a position where I can be successful."
Last season, Grady saw action in six games and started in one. He finished the year 15-of-26 with 138 yards and two touchdowns through the air and 39 rushing attempts for 188 yards and three touchdowns.
Grady threw only two passes each against Indiana State and Eastern Michigan, completing all of them, before throwing 22 passes in his next two games while quarterbacks Chandler Harnish and Dan Nicholson were on the sidelines with injuries.
"I think we gained more and more [confidence in Grady] as the year went on," Kill said. "When he's got time and can set his feet he throws the ball very well.
"Last year we couldn't do all the things with him. When he leaves the spring, he's got to be able to run our whole offense. That's our job."
But before the coaches can start dreaming of sending Grady all over the field as an all-purpose player, including throwing the ball, he has to build on the bowl practices that opened up the coaches' eyes.
"He's had a good spring," quarterbacks coach Pat Poore said. "He's working his tail end off at getting better at playing under center. He's one that is getting a complete grasp of the offense and doing it consistently."
Grady said he spent his offseason studying film and working on reading coverages quicker, and has noticed improvement over last season.
"I'm way ahead of where I was last year," Grady said. "I know what's going on now. Now it's just repetition and getting better every single day."
As for any special package or an expanded role for Grady this season, he hasn't given it too much thought.
"I don't mind. I just want to play," Grady said. "I've always been a kid growing up who has always played. I'm used to playing and just making plays. Wherever they feel I can contribute, that would be fine with me."
What we saw
With injuries to running backs Justin Anderson and Alan Smith, Northern Illinois is down to three backs. Chad Spann and Me’co Brown broke a few long runs and split time at the No. 1 running back. Ricky Crider appears to be a step behind the other two at this point.
In special teams drills, linebacker Victor Jacques turned in an impressive performance with a blocked punt and a decent job of blocking when he was on the line. Kiaree Daniels also blocked a punt. As for the battle at punter, Josh Wilber continues to impress with his leg strength but has a few issues with accuracy. He’ll make one great punt and follow it up with a clunker. Wilber, Mike Salerno and Ryan Neir will continue to share reps until one emerges.
For the full practice report, plus a video interview with linebacker Alex Kube, go to daily-chronicle.com/blogs/huskie_wire/