DeKALB – As Northern Illinois camp progresses, the same players seem to be lining up in starting spots.
Jack Marks and Luke Eakes have gotten the reps at tight end and H-Back. Anthony Wells has lined up next to Nabal Jefferson at defensive tackle. Victor Jacques and Jamaal Bass – in that order – have gotten first-team reps. And right now, the Huskies’ starting kicker is anyone’s guess.
Coach Dave Doeren confirmed a few starting spots Tuesday afternoon at NIU’s media day in DeKalb. Here are some of Doeren’s thoughts on the position battles, as well as some other tidbits.
TIGHT END AND H-BACK
Jack Marks started camp first on the depth chart, and he hasn’t relinquished the spot since.
But right behind Marks is former offensive tackle Adam Kiel, who converted to tight end this spring.
It’s been a major learning transition for fifth-year senior Kiel, who played tight end in high school. He’s had to learn how to block players in space, guys who are more than 50 pounds lighter – and much quicker – than him. He’s also practiced receiving for the first time in five years.
“The hard part was all the running,” the 287-pound Kiel said with a laugh. “As far as my receiving skills, they’re good. I’ll just say they’re good."
Crowded at running back, Cameron Bell moved to H-Back, a hybrid of fullback and tight end. Bell, who had no experience at the position before spring, is playing behind Eakes.
“He’s really, really playing well right now,” Doeren said of Bell. “I’m excited about Cameron’s progress. Each day you can see the steps he’s making."
With each passing day, Wells and Jefferson seem more entrenched as NIU’s starters. Doeren said he expects Geneva native Frank Boenzi and fifth-year senior Ron Newcomb to rotate into the spot as well.
“There’s a lot of things happening at the defensive tackle position, and the best defensive lines I’ve coached have depth,” Doeren said. “When you can continue to roll those guys through the game, keep them fresh, they have the same get off (the line of scrimmage for four quarters), that’s our goal.”
OUTSIDE (STRONG) LINEBACKER
With Pat Schiller and Jordan Delegal locked in at the middle and weak side, only one linebacker position remains unfilled. Victor Jacques has gotten the vast majority of first-team reps in camp, and Jamaal Bass is also competing for the job.
The most wide open position battle, sophomore Mathew Sims and junior college transfer Josh Gallington are almost even through the first five days. Sims has made two more kicks than Gallington, and Doeren said he would be the starter if he had to choose Tuesday.
But there’s a long way yet to go.
“Maybe the most heated competition on our team – even though it’s not talked about a lot – is our kicker,” Doeren said.
Sims said Tuesday he can tell it’s a close competition. But he isn’t just trying to win the job for this season.
“That’s my goal right now, is to be able to win the starting field goal kicker position and hold it throughout the rest of my career,” Sims said. “That’s my plan.”
Tidbits: AD Jeff Compher said the university has given the green light to begin planning and fundraising for an indoor practice facility.
“I’m looking forward to getting to work on that and rolling that out in the near future,” Compher said.
NIU has also sold 3,256 season tickets as of Monday, 340 more than this same week a year ago according to an official. It has also sold more season tickets than last season’s total of 3,199.