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NIU football looks to replace defensive line

All four starting positions must be filled

Published: Sunday, March 30, 2014 8:56 p.m. CDT • Updated: Sunday, March 30, 2014 9:04 p.m. CDT
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(Danielle Guerra – dguerra@shawmedia.com)
Northern Illinois University defensive end Jason Meehan (center) sheds a block Tuesday during spring practice at the Chessick Center in DeKalb.

DeKALB – Northern Illinois football developed two record-setting quarterbacks in the past few years.

The Huskies also have a very good history when it comes to tailback play.

Jordan Lynch played a huge part in NIU going a combined 24-4 in 2012 and 2013. But the defense was among the best in the Mid-American Conference as well, with the line being a big part of NIU’s success.

“We’ve set the bar here the last couple years on D-line play,” NIU coach Rod Carey said.

Two seasons ago, the Huskies led the MAC with 40 sacks. Last season, despite losing starting defensive ends Sean Progar and Alan Baxter, NIU had 34 sacks, which ranked third in the conference.

“What’s happened at NIU in my short time here is the next guy steps up,” said Brett Diersen, NIU’s second-year defensive line coach. “Chandler (Harnish) was here and he leaves, and Lynch steps up. We lose Baxter and Progar before I came in, and the next guys stepped up.”

The Huskies will need a few guys to take the next step in 2014. Gone are all four starters from last season – ends Joe Windsor and George Rainey and defensive tackles Ken Bishop and Anthony Wells.

Players who will be expected to contribute more include senior Jason Meehan (6.5 sacks in 2013), junior Perez Ford (four sacks) and sophomore Austin Smaha at the end spot and senior Donovan Gordon and sophomores Mario Jones and Michael Ippolito at defensive tackle.

“Usually we mix it up and a lot of different guys get a lot of different reps. We’re kind of feeling everybody out because we lost a lot of guys, a lot of good guys last year,” Meehan said. “We definitely have the talent but we all need the practice, so we’re all rotating in to see what our starting lineup’s going to be and how we’re going to work as a defensive line, really just getting to know everybody and their strengths.”

What helps set NIU’s group apart from the rest of its opponents? Diersen and Meehan noted the obvious talent but also quickly mentioned how the group outworks others.

“Usually we try to always stay after (practice) and do something extra. If you’re going to be on the D-line that’s where it starts,” Meehan said. “It starts on the D-line. We set the tone for everybody else, so we try to be the hardest-working group and be the most detailed and be the most physical.”

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