DeKALB – Northern Illinois coach Rod Carey is more comfortable with his defense than he was at the beginning of fall camp.
One area he’s been impressed with is the defensive line, an area where NIU lost four starters from last season – George Rainey and Joe Windsor at defensive end and Ken Bishop and Anthony Wells at defensive tackle.
Carey specifically mentioned the interior of the line as having a good camp. In terms of individuals, he specifically talked about tackles Mario Jones, Corey Thomas and William Lee, as well junior-college transfer defensive end Ben Compton as players who have stepped during the Huskies’ fall camp, which concluded Thursday.
“Really pleased with those four,” Carey said.
Carey expects to have the deep rotation the Huskies are used to having, something NIU has taken advantage of the past few years. Defensive coordinator Jay Niemann wants to avoid blitzing as much as possible, and that’s an area where NIU’s defensive line play comes up big.
“It helps because there’s no point in playing somebody if they’re tired,” NIU senior defensive end Jason Meehan said. “If you can’t give it 100 percent there’s no point in you being out there giving 50 percent when somebody else is fresh, so given that we have a lot of guys with good experience and guys we can trust we can rotate as many guys as we need to. So it helps us stay fresh and gives a lot of guys experience.”
With just eight starts in total between the returning players on the line, guys like Meehan and Ford will be counted on heavily and will be expected to play a bigger role. Meehan had 6½ sacks and seven tackles for loss last season, while Ford had 4½ sacks and eight tackles for loss.
“I think the transition will probably be more playing time, more snaps, stuff like that,” NIU defensive line coach Brett Diersen said of the two projected starters at the defensive end spot. “I don’t think the transition’s going to come down to game time. Now they’ve got to take their game to the next level mentally, I think is the big thing for those guys.”
Meehan was used mostly on first and second down last year and expects to see more time on third down this year.
“I led the team in sacks last year and I’m hoping to do that and a lot more this year, especially being able to play more third down,” Meehan said. “I’m really excited to get to test myself.”