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NIU football: 5 Things to Watch

We know Jordan Lynch is a great quarterback. We know Northern Illinois’ entire offensive line is back, and that there are some talented players in the backfield.

The defense has some good returning players – safety Jimmie Ward, linebacker Jamaal Bass and defensive tackle Ken Bishop for starters. The unit also loses some serious talent, as three players from last season, cornerback Rashaan Melvin and defensive ends Sean Progar and Alan Baxter, are in NFL camps.

As much as fans may not want to admit it, this isn’t the same team that went 12-2 and earned the Mid-American Conference’s first BCS berth. There are some question marks and things to watch before the team’s season opener Aug. 31 at Iowa.

Here are five things I will be keeping an eye on during fall camp, which begins this afternoon:

1. Wide receiver

Tommylee Lewis has speed, no doubt. After catching 48 passes for 539 yards a year ago, can he be the Huskies’ legitimate, No. 1 threat?

Sophomore Juwan Brescacin has great size (6-4, 219 pounds) and looked impressive this spring, while Angelo Sebastiano had good performances in the spring game and Huskie Bowl. We’ll see how the talent here comes together.

2. Which freshmen will perform well enough to see the field this season?

Last August, running back Keith Harris Jr. went from the bottom of the depth chart to scoring a touchdown Week 1 against Iowa. Harris was one of six true freshmen to see the field last season, with the others being wideout Jacob Brinlee, tight end Desroy Maxwell, defensive end Perez Ford, cornerback Marlon Moore and linebacker Mike Cotton.

Running back and wide receiver are two spots where you could see some true freshmen. Linebacker Sean Folliard isn’t listed on the depth chart, but took some reps with the first team back in spring ball.

3. Tailback depth

It’s pretty safe to say that Akeem Daniels is the starter right now, although he will spend the start of camp recovering from offseason surgery. But after that, who really knows where everyone will fit in? Harris showed flashes a season ago but suffered through an injury at the end of the year.

Giorgio Bowers had a nice spring, and you could see one of the three true freshmen – Aregeros Turner, Jordan Huff and Joel Bouagnon, also work their way into the mix.

4. The next big contributors on defense

Jimmie Ward should be a first-team All-Mid-American Conference selection once again, and the Huskies possess talent and experience in the secondary. The coaching staff raved about Jamaal Bass this spring. Ken Bishop is a nice player on the defensive line and Joe Windsor had a nice season as a reserve a year ago.

There are still going to be three new starters on the D-line and two new linebackers, although Boomer Mays, the favorite to start in the middle, started four games last season.

5. Health

Last summer, the Huskies lost projected starting center Logan Pegram to a lower leg fracture, and he missed the entire season. However, it was the only big blow NIU suffered.

Offensive tackle Tyler Loos, who suffered a broken tibia against Toledo, is ready to go, although Daniels won’t be ready for the start of practice. Going into Kinnick Stadium with a healthy roster would obviously be a plus.

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