The biggest question this fall is going to be the defensive side of the Northern Illinois Huskies. There's no getting around this. The offense is pretty much set given that almost everybody is returning, highlighted by star QB Chandler Harnish. The Offensive Line will be beastly, as will the receiving corps. The stable of running backs will continue to be successful and the transition into Matt Canada's offense will be painless.
Now on the defensive side of things we have some problems.
Who's back: S Tommy Davis
At the safety position, Tracy Wilson was hurt most of the year with a groin injury suffered against Illinois but still finished with 35 tackles. I don't think that anybody realizes that Mike Sobol actually started 10 games last year filling in and he finished with 40 tackles. Anybody going into that position is going to be an upgrade for this upcoming season. That person will likely be Demetrius Stone who played in 11 games LY and had 20 tackles and 3 PBU. Tommy Davis is always improving and he finished with 73 tackles himself last season.
The big issue is going to be on the outside, where two new starters will take the reign. One of these starters will be Rashaan Melvin, who played in all 14 games last year, started 2 and finished with 39 tackles, 2 INTs and 4 PBUs. He knows what he's doing. On the other side is likely going to be redshirt sophomore Dominique Ware. Jhony Faustin is an incoming sophomore JC that could see some time as well. Sean Evans is recovering from a knee injury. Jimmie Ward will be a beast at nickelback.
Overall, the secondary should be fine. Sure, they will make a few mistakes here an there but the only position that needs worrying about is the #2 CB position that can be worked in.
Who's back: MLB Pat Schiller
Here's where we run into some problems. Kube graduated, Clark got suspended for a year and Butler is out for the season after getting shot in the offseason.
Schiller returned miraculously to play some late games after suffering an ACL last spring. He was a full-time starter earlier in his career so we should definitely be fine at that position. On the outside you have Jordan Delegal who played in 14 games and had 38 tackles. The starting strongside linebacker position and depth at LB is probably the biggest question on the team.
Linebacker is the biggest question on the team, but instead of being great (as it would have been if two starters weren't out for the season) I think this spot will do OK. It's not all doom and gloom, but this spot has some players who know what they're doing. The players left at this position have a lot of athleticism, but the mental part of the game is going to have some lapses here and there.
Who's back: DE Sean Progar
Yes, we do lose the legendary Jake Coffman and two DL that started all 14 games LY.
Nabal Jefferson has established the starting position in the middle, but who else is going to help him. Ron Newcomb is back from an ankle injury and Anthony Wells is seeing big-time reps after switching from DE. Frank Boenzi is also a strong candidate.
I admit this is the position group that I know the least about, but it will be extremely important for them to get pressure on the QB and free up space for the young linebackers to work.
So what will happen?
The defense will be fine. There's enough returning talent all around to be pretty decent. NIU's offense is going to score quick and fast so who knows how many snaps these guys are going to see early on. The losses on this side of the ball are overstated and Doeren should be able to make it work considering his defensive background. The worst losses were at LB. When you look at the graduates, the only guy moving on to the NFL is Chris Smith who signed with the Rams the other day. This team is talented, but they're going to come together fast if they want to defeat strong offensive teams like Army or Wisconsin.