DeKALB – An offensive line on any team is always going to be a close-knit group.
At Northern Illinois, it’s no different. The Huskies’ offensive line does everything together.
“Tightest group on the team. We eat together all the time, obviously we’re large individuals,” the team’s starting center, Andrew Ness, joked after Wednesday’s practice at Huskie Stadium. “We have pregame dinners on Thursdays. Just hang out together all the time. It’s a lifestyle, just being friends.”
Before the season, there were a lot of unknowns for this particular group. Gone were four starters from last season – center Scott Wedige, tackles Keith Otis and Trevor Olson and guard Joe Pawlak.
On top of those losses, Logan Pegram, a senior who played guard his first three years but was slotted as the team’s starting center, suffered a lower leg fracture in fall camp and hasn’t played this season. Into his spot stepped Ness, one of many new faces on the line.
The transition from guard wasn’t too difficult for the redshirt freshman.
“I’ve played center since I was 7 years old before I got here,” Ness said. “I was kind of used to center. Throwing me at guard was kind of weird. So, I kind of got back into the vibe.”
Ness is one of two redshirt freshmen who start on the offensive line, along with right guard Aidan Conlon. There aren’t any seniors among the line’s starters, with sophomores Tyler Loos and Ryan Brown at the tackle spots and junior Jared Volk playing left guard.
NIU head coach Dave Doeren also has rotated guards Tyler Pitt and Matt Killian into the lineup, while junior tackle Matt Krempel has split time with Brown.
“You don’t see a glaring weakness when you’re watching the guys,” Doeren said. “We’re rotating guys enough, where if there’s a guy struggling there’s other guys coming in and out of the game where [defenses] can’t take advantage of it.”
Volk was late to the party this season, having missed spring practice and most of fall camp because of offseason knee surgery. He started practicing toward the end of preseason camp, and earned his first start of the season in the Huskies’ Week 2 win over Tennessee-Martin.
Volk, who started two games last season, said the knee has felt better and better since the season started.
“I feel great,” he said. “Came along very fast. I worked really hard in the offseason to come back, because I wanted to come back for my team.”
There has been a lot of movement on the line during preseason practice with Pegram going down and players switching between the first- and second- team offense.
But NIU offensive line coach Rod Carey has worked with the group on the details of the position – things like communication, movement of feet, technique and meshing together as a group.
Six weeks into the season, continuity hasn’t been a problem for NIU’s line.
On the field, or off it.
“It comes down to everything,” Volk said. “Every little thing all adds up to a win.”
Huskies banged up at receiver: NIU wide receivers Perez Ashford and Tommylee Lewis didn’t practice Tuesday or Wednesday. Both suffered sprained ankles during Saturday’s win against Central Michigan.
Senior receiver Martel Moore has been dealing a minor injury, but Doeren said the staff wanted to give him a couple extra days of rest. Doeren also said Lewis felt fine Wednesday, and added Ashford is more day-to-day.
“Perez is probably the most beat up of the group, the other two guys are OK. We’re just making sure they’ve got enough rest,” Doeren said Wednesday. “They’ve played a lot of snaps. I know Martel feels great, so he’ll be ready to go and Tommylee said he felt really good this morning, so we’re hoping those two guys will be full speed.”