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NIU puts depth on display at final spring practice

Huskies complete spring football at Huskie Stadium

Northern Illinois safety Garrett Barnas (center) intercepts a pass intended for Anthony Johnson (13) at the start of NIU's final spring football practice on Saturday.
Northern Illinois safety Garrett Barnas (center) intercepts a pass intended for Anthony Johnson (13) at the start of NIU's final spring football practice on Saturday.

DeKALB – All spring, Jerry Kill said he knew what he had in some spots. The Northern Illinois coach wanted to find out exactly how many cards were in the deck by the end of 15 practices.

Saturday, at practice No. 15, NIU held out several more players such as defensive ends Sean Progar and Alan Baxter and running back Ricky Crider in addition to the ones it was already keeping on the sidelines and allowed the younger and inexperienced players to get significant time at Huskie Stadium.

Among the standouts: Redshirt freshman wide receiver Anthony Johnson hauled in five catches for 90 yards and a touchdown, running back Jasmin Hopkins took a swing pass 52 yards for a touchdown, redshirt freshman defensive end Stephen O'Neal had two sacks and a pass breakup and redshirt freshman defensive tackle Zach Anderson notched a sack.

Kill sounded happy with his team's depth and how the Huskies will enter camp in August.

"We did lose some kids, no question about that, some very good players," Kill said. "But at the same time, we've had some in the program that are growing up. This is the best I've felt since I've been here."

The Huskies appear to be very strong, depth-wise, at defensive line and running back coming out of spring ball. Offensive line and linebacker don't have much depth, but NIU brings in seven offensive linemen and five linebackers in the fall.

Linebacker Jordan Delegal had two interceptions Saturday and said the defense is in a good position for the season.

"Even last year, we had a lot of players that played," Delegal said. "The thing about that is, everybody has experience. So the people that are coming in the summer, they'll have a great time just learning things. Everybody is hear for each other."

But it wasn't just backups playing Saturday.

The questions at quarterback weren't going to be answered this spring and likely were more muddled up by the end of Saturday. DeMarcus Grady's first two passes were intercepted and his next two were tipped and dropped by defenders. He did have a 60-yard touchdown pass to Johnson.

"I still have some things to work on," Grady said. "I still have to keep stressing my footwork and sliding in the pocket a little bit. Today I had some balls knocked down because I lost sight of the windows."

Despite completing just four of 12 passes and the two interceptions Saturday, Grady felt like he had a good spring overall.

"I feel like I opened up some eyes this spring," Grady said. "Some confidence grew on me amongst the coaches and my teammates I think. I just want to do whatever it takes to win."

Redshirt freshman Jordan Lynch turned in a 6-for-11, 58-yard performance along with a 9-yard touchdown rush.

And Chandler Harnish, who many at the start of spring thought would be recovering from right knee surgery by the time, looked as comfortable as he has all spring. He threw for 161 yards and two touchdowns and ran the ball three times for 24 yards, taking a couple of tackles, too.

Harnish did not speak with reporters all spring and Kill said he expects it to be competitive at quarterback all the way up until the first game against Iowa State.

"We needed to see what [Harnish] could do," Kill said. "He ran the ball in there a couple of times and I thought he ran and stuck it in there and that made me feel pretty good."

Kill said he had planned for his defense to hit a couple of the quarterbacks on Saturday and in most instances the players didn't shy away from doing so.

Grady, Lynch, Harnish, incoming junior Casey Weston and redshirt freshman A.J. Hill will all compete for the starting job once camp begins in August.

"They've all got work to do this [summer]. [DeMarcus] Grady had a great spring. He really did," Kill said. "But it all comes down to what they do. We need to find, and we'll find it, is what are they going to do this summer. How hard they'll work.

"I've got to have a Drew Brees. I've got to have a guy that'll be the first one in the office, the last one to leave and everybody's going to follow. That's what it's all about."

For complete statistics from the final spring practice, click here.

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