DeKALB – If it seems like Chandler Harnish looks more comfortable in the huddle this year, well, that's because he is.
And if it seems like the Northern Illinois sophomore quarterback has more freedom to operate the offense this season, that's because he does.
"We feel like he's deserved the ability to do that and make his own decisions," offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said.
Harnish, coming off a season in which he threw for 1,528 yards, eight touchdowns and nine interceptions in nine starts, said he watched film about twice a week in the summer and threw almost every day with the wide receivers on campus.
After those film sessions and the knowledge he feels he's gained after his freshman season, even despite missing three games, Harnish's confidence in the playbook and reading defenses has skyrocketed.
"I think this year we're going to have a lot more two-play check calls and a lot of stuff I'll be able to relay over the sideline through signals that we need to run this and do that because I've been able, over the last year, to really understand defensive schemes and techniques and our offensive philosophy," Harnish said. "I'm able to understand what plays we need to run and when we need to run them."
In the second year of NIU coach Jerry Kill and his coaching staff leading the Huskies, coaches have acknowledged that the playbook will be expanded compared to the first season where the offense struggled at times and finished 10th in the Mid-American Conference in total offense.
"We're going to do more pass-to-run and run-to-pass than we did last year," Limegrover said. "That's when you can look at it and say that's the best chance we have to make a good offensive football play. The better [Harnish] handles that, the better at offense we'll be."
Limiting turnovers will be key to Harnish's progression and earning more trust from the coaching staff to be in charge of more of the offense. Six of Harnish's nine interceptions last season came in the final four games.
"Don't turn over the football," Kill said. "You can win a lot of games if you don't turn over the football."
Limegrover pointed out that Harnish going up against the NIU defense every day in practice should help with the quarterback's progression.
"Our defense isn't a bunch of statues," Limegrover said. "We're seeing the base kinds of defenses right now with a three-man front and a four-man front. They fly around out there. We don't have to artificially create that or show it to him on film. It's right there for him."