The NIU Athletics department didn't produce any sort of Spring Prospectus with a depth chart, so us fans are forced to rely on second-hand sources, such as college football preview magazines (Phil Steele), CFN & beat writer John Sahly's position by position reviews of Spring Practice. NIU1981 even gave his best shot at predicting the depth chart released by CFN. And that was just for all the players enrolled in the spring. Now we have all these freshmen, walk-ons & transfers coming in things are getting chaotic. So anyways, I'll do my best in these position previews. Feel free to ridicule me and tell me I'm an idiot. Just try to make me see your point of view and you may be able to change my mind.
The Starter (Tier 1)
12 Chandler Harnish (6'2" 213, SO)
Coming in to the 2008 season, one of the biggest topics of the off-season was who in the hell was going to start the season taking snaps? Eventually, it became a head-to-head contest against the oft-injured veteran senior Dan Nicholson and the talented young redshirt freshman in Harnish. Obviously, Harnish won this battle and went on to start the season opener against Minnesota. Nobody was sure until the first snap though.
After the game against the Gophers, everyone and their mom who was a Huskie fan knew the name Chandler Harnish (who can resist his good looks?). Harnish finished up his debut in the Metrodome going 17 of 29 for 326 yds and 2 TDs. Going in to Kalamazoo, MI the week after, Chandler hurt his ankle in the 1Q which led to a loss to WMU and a medley of quarterbacks taking over for his absence. Tack on 2 extra wins to last year's total if he stayed healthy (yeah, I said it).
Week 6 against Miami OH, DeMarcus Grady went down with an ankle injury himself, Harnish came in before he was completely healthy and did what he had to do to lead the team to victory. The week after that was an effortless win against the sorry Toledo Rockets defense. In probably the windiest day I can remember in Dekalb (I watched this game at Fatty's with my mom it was so bad), Harnish showed off his skills running the ball against Bowling Green, scampering for 113 yds on 19 carries. He only completed two passes that day out of 5, both to the TE and threw his first 2 interceptions of the season.
After that stretch, Chandler's inexperience started to show and started to become inconsistent. He had a less than mediocre performance in Muncie, IN facing Ball State on ESPN2, going 14 of 22 for only 115 and an INT. Then against CMU, he led a comeback from a 24-pt deficit throwing for 288 yds and rushing for a TD. An interception in OT to lose the game was a perfect example of his inexperience. He then went on to have fun in the snow in Kent rushing for 2 TDs and throwing for 2 as well. Then came the clunker against Navy, where Harnish threw 2 INTs and we lost 16-0. The Independence Bowl was a microcosm of Chandler's season. He had some nice plays running the ball and threw for a TD early, but then went and threw two costly interceptions.
Sure, there will be competition for the QB position throughout camp, but this is the first time there has been a definitive returning starter at QB since the 2003 & 2004 seasons with Josh Haldi at the helm (COUGH COUGH). Harnish will only be as good as his supporting staff and pretty much everybody is returning this year. It will be important for his health not to be the leading rusher again this year. The O-Line & Running Backs will be improved and he's got some new toys to play with as the speedy freshmen receivers come rolling in. I'm optimistic that Harnish will improve on top of the experience he had last year to be one of the leaders on the team and become more consistent.
Likely to see playing time (Tier 2)
3 DeMarcus Grady (6'1" 202, SO)
In high school Grady was mainly a running quarterback and even though he redshirted in 2007, he still wasn't developed enough as a passer justify him throwing the ball around all that much. He was used early last year as a redzone maniac scoring a TD against WMU, Indiana St & EMU during the frantic QB shuffle to replace Harnish. Let's just say DeMarcus had his passing training wheels on. Everybody on the other sideline and in the stands pretty much knew he was going to run the ball every play. So when it became so painstakingly obvious, he would occasionally pass for TDs against ISU & Miami OH.
Grady's time in the spotlight took place in Knoxville, TN. Starting QB Dan Nicholson was getting knocked around as usual and left the game with an injury. Grady came off the bench to lead an underwhelming offense going only 4 for 10 passing and rushing for 46 yds on 14 attempts. The training wheels were never taken off of Grady and we were forced to watch an extremely conservative, boring offensive game. But then again, think about how you would perform if your first amount of playing time was against one of the best defenses in the SEC. You wouldn't be happy.
However, this Spring, Grady made tremendous strides and now is a bonafide passer. Sure he's still a little bit raw, but his football knowledge has made the jump to where he can now step in for Harnish at any point. The coaches want him on the field, and there's even talk of putting him at slot on select plays. Can't wait for this weapon to be released.
Could surprise (Tier 3)
17 A.J. Hill (6'2" 198, FR)
It's all about bloodlines. A.J.'s older brother is Nick Hill, a former superstar QB for the Southern Illinois Salukis, Kill's previous stop before he arrived at Northern. A rare 3-star prospect, Hill ended the recruiting process early committed to the Huskies. He would have received more offers as he was rated the #25 prospect in IL by EdgyTim, but I'm pretty sure everybody knew that he was heading to wherever Coach Jerry Kill was going to be. Hill is a small-school prospect with a big-time arm that has been deemed as the next big starter at QB for the Huskies. His senior season, he passed for an 2,119 yds with an insane 31-4 TD to INT ratio. He also rushed for 751 yds with 18 TDs on the ground!
14 Jordan Lynch (6'1" 195, FR)
Lynch's pedigree can't get much better. He was the Catholic League POY (best conf in the state IMO), the Southtown Star POY and Sun-Times 1st Team all playing at Mt. Carmel HS throwing for 1,221 yds and rushing for 848 with 31 total TDs. He was also one of the 4 captains that lead Team USA to victory in the Junior World Championships playing safety. I could go on and on, but Lynch's tremendous athletic ability may put him on the field sooner than later despite being very raw throwing the ball.
Scout team superstars (Tier 4)
15 Ryan Morris (6'3" 196, SR)
The former walk-on pocket passer fits in Kill's spread offense like a square peg fitting in a round hole. Some of us remember Morris in his first pass ever during the 2006 Poinsettia bowl getting his bell rung by TCU. 2007 was his glory year playing in 8 games and starting 3 during as Dan Nicholson tried to piece himself back together. He actually was pretty decent that year, but our team was too injured to give him any wins to his credit. Morris doesn't have the speed or arm strength that Kill looks for in a quarterback, but he is the prototypical team player and is the only football player with a 4.0 GPA.
18 Tommy Coughlin (6'2" 161, FR)
Good lord, 161 lbs at 6 feet and 2 inches? Take some protein shakes son! Don't know too much about the walk-on Glenbrook North grad other than he's on Twitter. At least he's bulked up from 155? EdgyTim says he has a rocket for an arm though. Head to strength coach Eric Klein's office please.