DeKALB – Sometimes life opens up a spot for a reason a player doesn't like or even doesn't fully understand, one that has nothing to do with on-field performance and one he has to move on and accept.
That's what happened at the start of this season for Northern Illinois when nose guard Mike Krause, who started every game in 2008, was ruled out for the year with a heart ailment.
"You feel bad for Mike because he's such a super young man and it's tearing his guts out right now," NIU coach Jerry Kill said.
While Krause sits out this season and will receive a medical redshirt, a spot opened up on the defensive line for the Huskies. And while the reason for the open position isn't great, it's a key spot that NIU has to fill if it hopes to remain one of the top defenses in the Mid-American Conference.
"The first thing I did was I prayed for him and his family," said redshirt freshman defensive lineman Brian Lawson. "That's a big loss for the D-line because he's a very inspirational guy for us. I was already working hard, and that just pushed me to work even harder."
Lawson and sophomore Ron Newcomb have split time as the top nose guard through the first week of camp, trying to make their case to start or at least earn time in a rotation that Kill said could reach as deep as five players.
But it's not just Lawson and Newcomb who are battling for more playing time. Defensive end Kyle Jenkins has been moved to the interior of the defensive line and defensive tackle Adam Coleman can slide over to nose guard.
NIU also has incoming freshmen Zach Anderson, Jon Phillips and Nabal Jefferson pushing for time.
It's a position battle that likely won't be decided until late in camp, if not into the season.
"We've got some bodies down in there, we've just got to make sure they know how to play," Kill said.
At Tuesday's practice, Lawson showed he wouldn't let anything, including the lack of a helmet after it was knocked off, stop him from making a tackle of running back Chad Spann.
"Everybody's battling, trying to get that starting spot," Lawson said. "Guys are trying to show who is the best and who can get that starting spot for [the season-opener at] Wisconsin."
Newcomb, who made his college debut last season against Indiana State, said he's been impressed by the competition.
"We're all fighting for a spot in that rotation," he said.
Coleman said Krause has done a great job of coaching the rest of the linemen at practice and has picked up tips from Krause that he can apply.
"He's really helped me in the pass game a lot and recognizing the run game," Coleman said. "He's got a good football IQ so he's doing a great job sharing that with the younger players."