DeKALB – Last season, Jamaal Bass was one of the young guys in Northern Illinois’ linebacking corps.
Now, the junior outside linebacker is the veteran.
Bass, who finished with 83 tackles, six tackles for loss and an interception last year, will be the most experienced player among the Huskies linebackers as a redshirt junior.
In 2012, Bass looked up to players like Tyrone Clark and Victor Jacques. This offeason, he’s been adjusting to being one of the older players, and most experienced, at linebacker.
“It took me awhile to get adjusted to it,” Bass said after Friday’s second day of spring practice at Huskie Stadium. “I always had guys to look up to. Now I’m one of the guys that everybody looks up to. At first it was a little different. I’m adjusted to it now.”
Bass said he learned a lot from Clark, who had 86 tackles and 10 tackles for loss in 2012, in developing leadership skills. Now, Bass is trying to fill his shoes.
“I think anybody on this team can vouch, anything T.Y. said, it went,” Bass said. “He just had that much power. Everybody knew that when it was time to work, he was going to be that guy to work. I’m trying to take that from him.”
Bass may be the only returning starting linebacker from NIU’s Orange Bowl run, but there’s still experience coming back.
Sophomore Boomer Mays started four games and is currently penciled in as the starting middle linebacker on NIU’s spring depth chart. Junior Michael Santacaterina, who came to DeKalb as a walk-on but earned a scholarship in the fall, had two starts while spending time at middle and outside linebacker.
He’s currently listed a a starter at outside linebacker opposite Bass, but is rotating at all three spots.
“The more everyone knows the better. I just feel like that’s an added advantage,” Santacaterina said. “Any time you know more positions, the more chance to get out on the field.”
Mays had 31 tackles and five tackles for loss last year, making one of the biggest plays of the season in the 41-40 win over Army Sept. 15. He stopped Black Knights quarterback Trent Steelman on fourth down to seal the nonconference win.
“He’s just a downhill player. He’s a really aggressive guy, loves contact and loves to run to the ball and plays with a lot of passion,” NIU defensive coordinator Jay Niemann said. “He’s everything you want in a Mike (linebacker) as far as how he goes about the game.”
NIU’s defense was a big part of the Huskies’ success last season, finishing 21st in the nation in points allowed. But Jacques and Clark are two out of seven starters the unit has to replace.
Niemann feels this group of linebackers could be just as good as last season, if not better. Niemann added that the players’ execution should be sharper during their third year in the system.
“We’re not planning to reinvent the wheel on defense. We’re going to do a lot of the things we’ve been doing and just trying to do them better,” Niemann said. “We’re looking at little things like being more precise in our alignments and just really emphasizing the details and the intricate little fundamentals and things that you see good teams do when they get into their third year.”