Defense leads the way in scrimmage
DeKALB — Rashaan Melvin broke up passes. Alan Baxter got to the quarterback. Dominique Ware picked up an Akeem Daniels fumble and was off to the races.
Northern Illinois' first-team defensive line pushed the offensive line around. Long plays were minimal.
After Saturday's scrimmage at Huskie Stadium, Dave Doeren said it's expected NIU's experienced defense would be ahead of the offense at this point.
Saturday, it surely looked that way.
"We showed a lot of improvements since that first scrimmage," linebacker Tyrone Clark said. "We played together. We played as one."
Clark said with the first-team defense's experience, there's good talking and communication.
"We're a close unit, personally. We're all one," he said. "We all know each other. We just bond together."
The scrimmage started off with the first-team offense taking the ball from its own 1-yard line. The defense forced two straight safeties.
With less than two weeks until the season opener against Iowa at Soldier Field, Baxter said the defense is just clicking. He feels the unit has started 2012 where it left off last season.
"The defense now, it's what we do in practice every day," he said. "Being where we're supposed to be and when we're supposed to be there."
Doeren wanted to see his running backs run downhill and be more physical. The defensive front seven didn't allow Daniels and Jamal Womble to do much of anything.
"I wanted it to be hard on our run game today. I wanted to see how they responded," Doeren said. "I'm not panicking by any means. It's great film for our guys to learn from, and I'm happy our defense played the way they did because they should have."
NIU's offense was also without senior wide receivers Martel Moore and Perez Ashford. Both are healthy, but Doeren said he just wanted to see what the younger receivers could do. Junior running back Leighton Settle didn't participate either, leaving more first-team carries for Womble. Doeren said Settle's "a little banged up", and he wanted to see what the other backs have.
The offensive player who showed the most was a true freshman who hasn't gotten a ton of reps in camp, Keith Harris Jr. out of Leo High School in Chicago. Harris had three touchdowns, including one with the first team,
"I had no idea that would happen today. I know he's an explosive kid with great speed, he was on the state champion 4-1 team," Doeren said. "He just hasn't had a lot of carries in fall camp. I was disappointed in what I was seeing so I just threw him out there, and all the sudden he had three touchdowns. So, it was kind of a battle for a promotion today. We'll see where it goes."