Part II of an oh-so-early look at the themes that will mesmerize us when Northern Illinois Spring Practice starts March 23rd.
Running Back never used to be an issue at Northern Illinois. When Thomas Hammock developed his heart condition in 2002, that just gave way to Michael Turner. If not Turner, then there were a lot of capable backups to plug in there likeor A.J. Harris. Then Turner handed his torch on to Garrett Wolfe in 2004, who at one time was 5th or 6th string RB on the depth chart.
The fun and games stopped soon afterwards as the Huskies put together a 2-10 season in 2007. With the lack of any sort of balanced attack, Justin Anderson had a fine season with 1,245 yds on the ground and 45 catches for 263 yds through the air, 11 TDs total. Montell Clanton went down his 2nd straight season with an ACL injury. David Bryant was still in the backfield. Maybe it was the O-Line or the new coordinator, but there just wasn't a sizzle with anybody toting the rock.
2008 was a lot of the same sort of thing: Coaching changes and transition of the offense. QB Chandler Harnish was the leading rusher that season with 539 yds and 4 TDs. The leading RBs were Me'co Brown with 510 and 2 TDs and Chad Spann with 429 yds and 8 TDs.
Last year was back to a bit of normalcy for the Huskies running game. Chad Spann was the leading rusher for the Huskies toting the ball 179 times for 1,060 yds and 19 TDs. However Kill's obsession with giving Me'co Brown the ball constantly despite being a less effective RB proved costly. All you have to do is look at the stats: In a 31-34 loss to Idaho, Spann had only 4 carries. Against Toledo, we lose 19-20 and Spann only gets 6 carries?? We even put up a missing person report up around here!
This was best exemplified in the "Me'co up the middle on 2nd and 3rd down game" against Ohio. Huskies are in opponent territory looking to complete their comeback against the Bobcats down 28-31 and then this happens:
Seriously. What. The. Heck.
What completely tortured fans for an entire season won't even be an issue in 2010. I wish Me'co the best on his future ventures, but for the sake of this team his departure was probably a positive. No quibbling about whether he should get more carries should help some of the other unsung guys see extra time and prove their worth on the field.
Fortress of Solitude
Superman Spann (SR, 5'9" 198) is back with a vengeance. 19 touchdowns? Peanuts. Given the keys to the starting running back position, Spann will run wild in 2010. The former walk-on has a blend of pure power and desire to get into the endzone that defenders fear. He's not the fastest or most athletic person out there, but he sure gets the job done. We've only begun to see the surface of his potential in the backfield.
Spann was named Offensive & Team MVP and 1st Team All-MAC this past season.
Cameron Bell (JR, 6'2" 242) is a former Iowa State linebacker that had to sit out all of last year due to NCAA transfer rules. In high school at Stony Point in Round Rock, TX he rushed for 3,000 yds in his career and scored 11 TDs as a senior. He chose Iowa State over Michigan State, Central Michigan, New Mexico, New Mexico State & UTEP. Was only 6'1" 215 lbs coming out of high school and played as a true freshman for the Cyclones.
With his size, there should be no hesitation on who gets the ball up the middle on 3rd and short anymore.
Closest comparison: Think A.J. Harris on steroids. Or Brandon Jacobs (6'4" 260), who played under Coach Kill at SIU.
Jasmin Hopkins (JR, 5'9" 174, Youtube) led the JUCO ranks last year rushing for 1,931 yds and 16 TDs. Also won the NJCAA Player of the Year award, which is like a mini-Heisman. Hopkins is a tough, tough runner and will get the maximum yardage that he can get on every single play. He's also got tremendous agility and cutting abilities, but lacks that top-end speed that some scat backs possess. He's not going to be flashy, but he'll surprise a lot of opponents.
Closest comparison: Garrett Wolfe with a bigger frame and less quickness (nobody's as fast as Wolfe is).
Antione Kirkland (rFR, 5'11" 198) is a guy that could come out of nowhere and get a decent amount of carries. The Florida native is the only underclassman RB that we really have on the roster, so it would be great to see him develop some skills for when he's ready to step into the spotlight. He surprised a lot of people last spring, now it's time to do it again with the 1st and 2nd team offense.
Sidenote: Learn how to spell his name right: the I goes before the O instead of the other way around.
Ricky Crider (SR, 5'9" 190) struggled with a hamstring injury for the former part of last year, but eventually got to see some time later on in the season. He is a special teams maven and will continue to be dominant in returning kickoffs.
Akeem Daniels (FR, 5'7" 180) is a speed demon and has enrolled early for spring ball. The younger brother of Kiaree rushed for 845 yds and 9 TDs his senior year. Also could see some time at the slot position. He'll find the field somehow this fall.
Alan Smith (JR, 5'10" 208) and Barrington Scott (rFR 5'11" 200) will look to help out on the scout team this year.