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True Freshman WR Perez Ashford is looking to not drop a single ball this upcoming season.

To say that Northern Illinois is a young team is an understatement.  Right now the Huskies lack depth and need a lot of underclassmen to fill spots on the depth charts.  Get to know these players, because they will be showing up on your box scores sooner than later.

A bunch of senior WRs graduated last year, but guess what?  Not one of those guys even surpassed the 500 yd barrier.  This leaves a lot of spots open for young guys to step in and step up the production in this area for 2009.  With all the talent that graduated on defense, there are a lot of open spots to be filled on that side of the ball.  Add in season-ending injuries to both DL Mike Krause & Kyle Jenkins and you have to find some talented bodies.

Kill's report from Thursday's practice sums a lot of it up:

"Right now we don't have a lot of depth and you'd like to redshirt some of those freshmen, don't know if we can," Kill said. "They're very strong. very athletic. I need to really see between now, tomorrow, Saturday, probably into Tuesday what were going to do with those kids. We're going to try and redshirt some but we're going to have to play some too."

There's a lot of room at Special Teams as well for these players:

Add Garrett Barnas to the list of potential kick returners (joining Me'co Brown, Tommy Davis, Martel Moore, Daniel Rodriguez, Perez Ashford and David Bryant) but there was one more significant addition: John Tranchitella. Seriously.

Helping us out with these evaluations will be excerpts from John Sahly's excellent blog covering all of fall practice on Huskie Wire.  Along with position evals by the Official NIU Athletics Website

True Freshmen

WR Martel Moore is a speed demon from the lone star state of Texas.  Has the potential to be the biggest playmaker of this freshman class.

I don't know how freshman wide receiver Martel Moore doesn't see the field at this point. He continues to make catches I think he has no business catching.

"Martel Moore is a guy who can run. He's got some length, and a lot of play making ability. He loves the game." - PJ Fleck

WR Perez Ashford was a highly-touted recruit from the state of Ohio, a place that we rarely recruit.  Apparently his hands are made of stickum, which is a nice departure from some of the other talents that have passed through Dekalb lately.

Ashford has proven in the past couple of days he's not afraid to go get a high pass and fight a cornerback or safety for it and he did it again today.

Do you remember our coverage of National Signing Day, when freshman wide receiver Perez Ashford's high school coach said that in three years Ashford had dropped only two passes? That reputation seems pretty accurate so far.

"Perez Ashford catches everything," he said. "He looks the ball in, the way you're supposed to. He goes up and gets the ball. That's why we recruited him, because he was a great pass catcher and disciplined route runner." - PJ Fleck

WR Daniel Rodriguez is right on the tipping scale of really being able to make an impact this yearThe Florida native may have the right combination of strength and skills to be able to play and make an immediate impact.

Once situational drills started, Daniel Rodriguez made a statement. The freshman wide receiver lined up with the No. 1 offense for the first drive and took full advantage of the opportunity.

Rodriguez hauled in three catches on the drive, including a big 10-yarder that put the offense in field goal range, where kicker Mike Salerno easily connected on a 44-yarder.

LE Alan Baxter is an unheralded recruit from (Zbikowski U) Buffalo Grove that has since demolished everything in his path to obtain the backup position on the left side of the DL behind Brandon Bice.

One freshman's status already has been determined. NIU coach Jerry Kill said after practice that freshman defensive end Alan Baxter will not redshirt this season.

"He's done a hell of a job in camp," Kill said. "He benches over 400 pounds, can run. He's a steal recruit for us, I can tell you that. He's got some freak-of-nature in him."

Baxter has been impressive throughout camp. He's strong for a freshman and is getting better at learning how to use that strength.

"Alan Baxter has been a really great surprise as a true freshman. He has mentally and physically adjusted to college football, and I think you'll see him out on the field quite a bit this season." - DL Coach Jeff Phelps

OLB Tyrone Clark is another unheralded recruit from the from Missouri, but he seems to be adapting fast to the system:

"We have four new linebackers, and they are all doing a good job adjusting to this level of football," Matukewicz said. "Tyrone (Clark) has done a good job; he's physically gifted but what I am more impressed with is his maturity, and his ability to fit into the system. He really takes pride in knowing his role and what to do out there on the field.

C Jared Volk has been taking the majority of backup snaps at the center position as backup Scott Wedige has been out lately with mono, gaining him valuable experience.

Backup center Jared Volk saw 63 snaps today. Kill again praised Volk for how he's performed in camp.

"We wouldn't have been able to do what we did in two-a-day camp if it wasn't for the center," Kill said. "Jared Volk just did a great job."

DT Zach Anderson has been very quiet during Fall practice, but with all the recent losses on the DL, I just don't see him NOT playing as a true freshman.  Hopefully he develops fast and makes some plays.

The Redshirts

RG Logan Pegram played a significant amount of time during the first scrimmage at the starting LG spot as JO took over at C when Adamski was sitting out.  The stud from Kansas could certainly be right up there in line for playing time with all the OL shuffling.

RE Sean Progar was a walk-on that redshirted last year and is now the backup to Jake Coffman on the right side of the DL.  Larry English's old position.

"The older guys are showing great leadership, and a lot of the younger guys are really stepping up, guys like Sean Progar," Phelps said. "He is really going to be able to help us out on the edge from a pass rushing standpoint.

NG Brian Lawson became the de facto starter at nose guard after Mike Krause went down with his season-ending heart issue.

"He's a big body that can run," Claeys said. "He has improved himself so much. I think the thing with Mike Krause being out, he would like to have that job and it shows, because he's worked hard at it."

"Brian Lawson can play," Claeys said. "That's why I don't worry about the inside. I think we've got two guys [Lawson and D.J. Pirkle] who can play. But we've got to find the others. I'd really like to have three and see if we can identify five of the bodies we've got down there."

MLB Victor Jacques switched over from fullback in the Spring and hasn't looked back.  The shoe-in to see a bunch of snaps this year right behind Schiller in the Middle.

CB Tommy Davis switched from WR to CB because of lack of depth in Spring Ball.  He has made strides in the defensive backfield and looks to be the main nickelback come the season.

The Transfers

OLB Jordan Delegal (Sophomore) had offers from the who's who of college football coming out of high school, but eventually made his way to Joliet JC and then right on to Coach Kill's lap.  The former DB has way too much talent and speed not to see the field, even as only a situational pass-rusher.

SS Garrett Barnas (Junior) is happy to be just playing football after the Syracuse fiasco that led him to walk-on to NIU as a defensive back.  The coaches are tight-lipped, but I feel as though Garrett sees a lot of playing time this year.

Tommy Davis played cornerback and safety today. NIU still wants to find a fourth safety after David Bryant, Tracy Wilson and Mike Sobol. I think Garrett Barnas has done an admirable job, especially for his first camp, but that backup spot is still up for grabs. Kill said Jody Van Laanen, who has been slowed by injury, should be back to practice on Tuesday.

P Josh Wilber (Junior) looks to be the man booting the ball as Mike Salerno already has double duty with kickoffs and field goals.