DeKALB – The Northern Illinois defense has a lot to replace from last season.
Defensive ends Sean Progar and Alan Baxter are in NFL camps, as is cornerback Rashaan Melvin. Nabal Jefferson also was a big part of the defensive line on the inside.
The Daily Chronicle broke down what NIU has to replace within each unit of the defense by looking at the numbers. Here’s what we came up with:
Starters lost: DE Sean Progar, DE Alan Baxter, DT Nabal Jefferson
Statistical production lost: 35 starts, 167 tackles, 19 sacks, 28.5 tackles for loss, five pass breakups, one interception
Returning starter: DT Ken Bishop
Who fills the void: DE Joe Windsor, DE George Rainey, DT Donovan Gordon, DT Anthony Wells, DE Jason Meehan
The 19 sacks and 28.5 tackles for loss is a lot to replace, and this is the part of the defense where NIU was hurt the most by graduation.
Still, there’s talent. Windsor was good in a reserve role last season, finishing with 10.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks. Bishop should be a force on the inside again. Wells had 8.5 tackles for loss and four sacks last year, and Rainey got playing time, as well. The question is, who fills out the role of a guy like Windsor? Defensive coordinator Jay Niemann said he’d like to rotate 8 to 10 players on the line, but it still is to be determined whether NIU will be able to do that.
Starters lost: OLB Tyrone Clark, MLB Victor Jacques
Returning starter: OLB Jamaal Bass
Statistical production lost: 22 starts, 133 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 12 tackles for loss, seven pass breakups, one interception
Who fills the void: MLB Boomer Mays, OLB Rasheen Lemon, LB Michael Santacaterina
The coaching staff raved about Bass during the spring, and he already has had two years as a starter. Mays started four games last year and had 31 tackles and five tackles for loss, while Santacaterina has played multiple spots. Lemon should make his first start when the Huskies open the season at Iowa.
Starters lost: CB Rashaan Melvin, S Demetrius Stone
Statistical production lost: 26 starts, 132 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 22 pass breakups, three interceptions
Starters returning: CB Sean Evans, S Jimmie Ward
Who fills the void: S Dechane Durante, CB/S Marlon Moore, CB Jhony Faustin, S Dominique Ware
Before the season, NIU coach Rod Carey called the secondary the strength of his defense. It’s easy to see why. Ward should be a first-team all-conference pick again. With only two starters gone, there’s a lot of experience back. Durante and Moore both started games a year ago, while Faustin started 10 games in 2011.
Melvin is a big loss. His 17 pass breakups led the Mid-American Conference last year, yet he only earned an honorable mention All-MAC selection.
Can anyone fill the role of a shutdown corner?
Defensive analysis: There’s a lot of talent gone, evidenced by the fact that three guys (Melvin, Progar and Baxter) are in NFL camps.
However, it’s not like there’s a ton of inexperienced players stepping in, as a lot of them played big roles last year even if they were not starters on the depth chart. Windsor could be in for a big season at defensive end, and Mays played well at inside linebacker last year. Durante was a starting safety at the beginning of 2012 before getting injured.
There’s a lot to replace, but the Huskies are in a spot where they’re going to be playing guys who come in with experience and starts under their belts.
“Our two-deep is misleading because it shows that there are a lot of guys playing that aren’t starters back from last year, but in fact they role played, or rotated, or had some significant impact in the outcome of games,” Niemann said. “So they’re not going in untested, which is good. They don’t have the number of snaps of guys who’ve left, obviously, but they have been in the fire, so to speak. They’ve performed in key games and at key times and they’ve been in those situations that they’re going to be in this upcoming year.”