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Departures leave some holes to fill for NIU

Published: Tuesday, April 16, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT
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Rob Winner – rwinner@shawmedia.com Northern Illinois safety Jimmie Ward (center) participates in a drill during practice at Huskie Stadium in DeKalb, Ill., Wednesday, March 27, 2013.

One of the inevitable questions heading into the 2013 season will be, can Northern Illinois do it again?

The Huskies became the first Mid-American Conference school to bust the BCS last season, and have a lot returning this year, including quarterback Jordan Lynch, who finished seventh in the Heisman Trophy voting in 2012.

NIU’s entire offensive line returns as well, as does safety Jimmie Ward, who led the team in tackles (104) and interceptions (three) in 2012.

However, there’s a lot of talent gone from last year’s Orange Bowl team. Receiver Martel Moore, defensive ends Sean Progar and Alan Baxter and cornerback Rashaan Melvin are some main examples.

With spring practices ending this week, there still is a long way to go until the season opener at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City.

The following is a look at what NIU lost and how the numbers break down. Stat-wise, here’s what NIU has to replace from last season, and players who can be expected to fill those roles:

OFFENSE

Rushing: 110 carries, 482 yards, six touchdowns

Most of this total comes from Leighton Settle, who has left the program. Akeem Daniels stepped up at the end of last season, and the Huskies did just fine without Settle.

Who’s expected to step in: Daniels ran for 240 yards combined in wins over Eastern Michigan and Kent State in the MAC Championship. He should get the majority of the carries.

Daniels and Keith Harris Jr. have been out this spring because of minor injuries, but backs such as Giorgio Bowers and Cameron Stingily have gotten reps in their place and impressed at times.

Receiving: 116 catches, 1,541 yards, 15 touchdowns

Martel Moore and his 75 receptions, 1,083 yards and 13 TDs are the biggest contributions the offense has to replace. Tight end Jason Schepler also will be missed, but mainly for his blocking ability.

Who’s expected to step in: Tommylee Lewis has playmaking ability, and he now is Lynch’s top target. Angelo Sebastiano had a good performance in the spring game, catching two touchdowns, and you could see him in a starting role. Juwan Brescacin has great size at 6-foot-4, 219 pounds, and had more of a role at the end of last season. NIU coach Rod Carey mentioned him and Da’Ron Brown as receivers who have had a good spring.

DEFENSE

Stats: 450 tackles, 45 tackles for loss, 20.5 sacks, five interceptions, 34 pass breakups, five forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries

Replacing Rashaan Melvin, who led the MAC with 17 pass breakups and has a good shot to be an NFL draft pick in a couple of weeks, is a challenge. Finding someone to step into the shoes of Sean Progar or Alan Baxter isn’t easy either. Seven of the top 10 tacklers from last year’s defense no longer are with the program.

Who’s expected to step in: Senior defensive end Joe Windsor had a good season last year, finishing with seven sacks. George Rainey also contributed at defensive end. Both are listed as starters on the Huskies’ spring depth chart, but the question is, who replaces them to provide depth?

Linebackers Boomer Mays and Michael Santacaterina got good experience at the position last year. Marlon Moore started six games at cornerback as a true freshman, and Dechane Durante had six starts at safety, so there’s nice experience in those spots, as well.

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