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NIU football starts spring practice

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This afternoon, Northern Illinois will officially take the football field for the first time since the Huskies’ 31-10 loss to Florida State in the Orange Bowl.

NIU will work out at Huskie Stadium 15 times from now until April 20, including the annual spring game April 13 (2:30 p.m.) and first Huskie Bowl on April 20 (time TBA).

There will be a lot of things that will not change from last season. Jordan Lynch and his 4,953 yards of total offense are back at quarterback. The entire starting offensive line, one of 2012’s biggest surprises, returns as well.

However, seven starters from the Huskies’ underrated defense are gone. Leading wide receiver Martel Moore (1,083 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns) graduated as well.

Rod Carey is beginning his first full season as head coach, replacing Dave Doeren, and there’s still a long way until the season opener Aug. 31 at Iowa, but here are a few things to look out for these next few weeks:

1. The defense

NIU’s offense got most of the credit in 2012, and deservedly so. But people forget how good the defense was. The Huskies gave up just 19.86 points a game, ranking 21st in the country.

However, gone are guys like cornerback Rashaan Melvin, defensive ends Sean Progar and Alan Baxter, as well as linebackers Tyrone Clark and Victor Jacques.

Players now listed at the top of NIU’s depth chart include linebackers Boomer Mays and Michael Santacaterina, defensive end George Rainey and nose guard Donovan Gordon.

2. How smooth will the coaching transition be?

Part of the reason Carey got the job was so the switch from Dave Doeren would go smoothly, and by all accounts, it has.

However, there are six new assistant coaches. Carey said that when you have a program as successful as NIU’s, it’s not about what is changed, but rather what is kept.

3. Quarterback depth

Jordan Lynch is the guy this year, no question.

But what if he’s forced to sit out for part of a half, a game, even a few games in a row?

Matt McIntosh got his first real action last spring and gained improvement as he kept getting more reps. He enters spring practice as the backup, with redshirt freshmen Matt Williams and Drew Hare, both of whom traveled with the team at times last year, getting reps behind him.

4. An experienced offensive line

At last week’s pre-spring press conference, Carey said that the offensive line got pushed around by Florida State in the Orange Bowl and it left a bad taste in their mouths.

A big question mark heading into last season, the entire starting unit is back in 2013, and a lot will be expected of them.

“I was thinking back to all my time in coaching, all the way down to high school. I don’t think I’ve ever had an entire O-line back,” Carey said. “You may have had four back in different parts of my career. I may have had five guys that played, but not all five starters back like that. It’s a unique opportunity is the best way to say it.”

5. Who will step up at the other offensive skill positions?

Gone are wideouts Moore and Perez Ashford, as well as tight end Jason Schepler and his sound blocking in the running game.

Some names to keep an eye on include wide receivers Angelo Sebastiano, Charlie Miller and Juwan Brescacin, as well as tight ends Luke Eakes, Desroy Maxwell and Tim Semisch.

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