With NIU football’s spring practice under way, there are many questions to be answered. One of those is who will step up for the front seven that anchored the defense last season.
With three of its four defensive linemen graduating and two linebackers not returning for the 2011-2012 season, first-year head coach Dave Doeren will have important decisions to make.
It is only spring and NIU’s next game is nearly half a year away, but the defense is working to find answers as soon as it can.
With last year’s emotional leader Jake Coffman gone from the defensive line, the team already knows of someone who will have no problem stepping into his role.
“The guy that everyone looks up to is Sean Progar,” said returning defensive linemen Joe Windsor. “Even when Jake [Coffman] was here he was still making plays, everyone looked up to both of them.”
With Progar the only returning starter for the defensive line, it is fitting that his teammates rally around him and look for him to lead by example.
Windsor, along with Alan Baxter, Nabal Jefferson are just a few of the linemen who are expected to step into larger roles next season. Although the line is going to have a different make-up, Windsor and his teammates are determined to make the unit an even better group than before.
“We are expected to be the best on the field, and we will be the best on the field,” Windsor said.
With the linebacker core also only returning one of last season’s starters, linebackers coach Tom Matukewicz has a good idea of who can help take charge of the crew in the absence of two of NIU’s biggest defensive pieces from last season, Alex Kube and defensive MVP Tyrone Clark.
Senior Pat Schiller, who only appeared in eight games last season due to a knee injury, is going to be a key part of the group along with returning starter Devon Butler.
Matukewicz sees Schiller and Butler being crucial in the front seven, but he also thinks that the younger guys in his unit have potential to make a difference.
“I think as just a group, when I see the young guys I see a lot of talent there,” Matukewicz said. “It’s just up to them and I to get it developed.”
Linebacker Jordan Delegal is hoping to enter his senior year playing the best football of his career, knowing very well that every linebacker needs to make an impact in order to keep the NIU defense among the best in the nation.
“We just want to keep [the defense] going,” Delegal said. “Our coaches have a lot of experience and we just want to keep building from that. I can’t wait until the season begins.”