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NIU prepares for season opener vs. Iowa

Published: Monday, Aug. 26, 2013 10:55 p.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013 8:26 a.m. CDT

CHICAGO — With Northern Illinois’ season opener at Iowa on Saturday looming, coach Rod Carey isn’t naming new stars in the making as the fall camp wraps up.

With key starters at receiver and defensive line departed, the Huskies are working on a by-committee approach at many positions.

“There’s a lot of good pieces to the puzzle,” Carey said on Monday’s Mid-American Conference teleconference.

Defensive end Alan Baxter and Sean Progar are the most significant losses on the defensive line, which helped create six sacks in last season’s 18-17 loss to Iowa. Carey expects the same depth on the line, only with new players.

“I know we played a lot of guys last year up front,” Carey said. “Progar and Baxter are both trying to make NFL teams. I don’t know if you replace them just by one or two people. I think you have to do it by committee. We did it by committee last year as well. I think being able to stay fresh is a big deal along on the defensive line.”

The depth chart lists seniors George Rainey and Joe Windsor as starting ends while senior Ken Bishop and Donovan Gordon are expected to start on the inside. Reserves like redshirt freshmen Michael Ippolito and Mario Jones are expected to contribute.

“We had guys that were in (reserve) roles last year,” Carey said. “Guys that didn’t play as much now they’re expected to be (key) role players.”

After losing Martel Moore (75 catches, 1,083 yards and 13 touchdowns) and Perez Ashford (34 catches, 373 yards, one touchdown) to expired eligibility, the Huskies have identified a group of speedy, skilled receivers to help make up for the lost yardage.

Second-leading receiver Tommylee Lewis returns after grabbing 48 passes for 539 yards and five touchdowns as a sophomore, but receivers like junior Da’Ron Brown and Angelo Sebastiano are expected to step in. Last week, quarterback Jordan Lynch mentioned sophomore Jacob Brimlee as a receiver who impressed during fall camp.

“Martel Moore and Perez Ashford played a lot of football around here,” Carey said. “I don’t know that you (replace them) by one person. I think you do it more by committee. We certainly have a group of wideouts that stepped up this fall camp that showed they’re up to the challenge. We’ll put them to the test. I think they’ll be ready to go as a group.”

Iowa prep: The Hawkeyes named sophomore Jack Rudock the starting quarterback on Friday. Despite never having taken a snap with the Hawkeyes, Carey said the Huskies will be prepared to face the best.

“I think every year, not just with us, but every team across the country, you have to replace people every year,” he said. “It presents a challenge because you don’t know what he does or doesn’t do. But you know this, that he’s going to be a good football player coming out of Iowa and that system.”

Rudock was the unused backup to James Vandenberg last season.

Likewise, Carey said new assistants on Iowa’s staff won’t create many wrinkles.

“I think that Coach (Kirk) Ferentz has done such a good job there over such a long period of time the formula is pretty good,” Carey said. “I’m sure there are changes any time you have new staff members. I think overall the formula will stay the same. You have to get into your first game and you have to go ahead and adjust as you go, just like you do every game.”

Heisman focused: Northern Illinois isn’t only concentrating on earning quarterback Lynch the Heisman trophy this season. The Huskies also are making sure Lynch doesn’t focus on it too much.

It’s a simple task given Lynch’s personality, Carey said.

“I think the biggest thing you have to do — this is a challenge whether you’re Jordan Lynch or a freshman coming into the program — we’re making sure his schedule is such he can still be a student athlete,” he said. “He’s a guy that’s pretty much a salt of the earth guy. Not much of it gets to him. Our job is pretty easy.”


©2013 the Chicago Tribune

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