Hustle Belt: The question on every NIU fans' mind is the quarterback situation. How have the competitors looked so far? Do you believe there is a front runner?
Steve Nitz: NIU head coach Rod Carey has said that Matt McIntosh, Anthony Maddie, and Drew Hare have all been improving dating back to fall camp. From what Carey has said publicly and from judging by the rep distribution in practice, it's a very close race. Each player is athletic and fits the system well.
For what it's worth, my money is on McIntosh. A scenario I could see playing out is two, or even all three quarterbacks, playing in the season opener against Presbyterian. If the race is truly that close, that's not a big deal seeing as the Huskies would beat Presbyterian with me at quarterback.
Hustle Belt: Losing Ken Bishop is huge. Who may step up on the defensive line and become an impact player?
Steve Nitz: Defensive line is probably the biggest question mark on the defense this year. NIU likes to rush four and avoid blitzing as much as possible, so how the group performs will be huge.
I think starting defensive ends Jason Meehan and Perez Ford could be in for big years, while defensive tackle is more of a question mark. It's possible we'll only see one upperclassman (senior Donovan Gordon) in that rotation. At this level, you can't just replace a guy like Bishop, who looks like he'll make the Cowboys' roster.
Hustle Belt: Which, if any, true freshman may see the field?
Steve Nitz: I think NIU will definitely have to play some true freshmen in the secondary, and you could see some at wide receiver as well. A nice group of defensive backs got consistent reps in camp, while Christian Blake and Ezra Saffold could see time at wide receiver. Renard Cheren is an interesting player at linebacker, he's gotten a lot of reps.
Hustle Belt: What wide receivers could contribute the most off the bench this season?
Steve Nitz: I realy like this group of wideouts. I think 6-4 Juwan Brescacin is in for a big season, and NIU wide receivers coach Thad Word told me early in camp that Chad Beebe (Don Beebe's son) had the best spring of any of his wideouts. Redshirt freshman Malik Mitchell was a pretty highly-touted prospect who could see some time
Hustle Belt: Who are some guys who you think could have a breakout season?
Steve Nitz: Offensively, Brescacin is a real interesting talent. Basketball was his top sport until his junior season of high school, and he played quarterback his first two years of prep ball. He really came on at the end of last season and I think that carries over. Aregeros Turner had a bunch of BCS offers out of high school and saw time as a true freshman. Fans will see a lot of him this year.
On defense, safety Dechane Durante and outside linebacker Jamaal Bass are four-year starters who will help carry the defense. True sophomore Jamaal Payton is a guy who could step up at outside linebacker.
Hustle Belt: Jimmie Ward left a huge hole in the secondary. We've seen Durante play well and now Marlon Moore is moving to safety. What can we expect from the new cornerbacks we'll be seeing this fall? And how do you think Moore's transition to safety will go?
Steve Nitz: Senior corner Paris Logan is a good player and he'll be a big part of the secondary. However, that other corner spot is a big question mark. Redshirt sophomore Anthony Brooks was listed as the starter on the team's preseason depth chart, but he's played in just four games. Redshirt freshman Brandon Mayes is a player who could see time at both corner and safety.
Eventually, Moore should be fine at safety, as NIU's staff has liked what he's done there so far. At the same time, he's still never played an actual game back there.
Hustle Belt: With Cameron Stingily out for at least the first four games, who needs to step up in the backfield other than Akeem Daniels for the Huskies to be successful?
Steve Nitz: I really, really like the Huskies' tailback depth. Keith Harris Jr. was good last season before an ankle injury sidelined him, and he looked great at the Huskies' scrimmage last week. The coaching staff raves about sophomore Joel Bouagnon, who saw time as a true freshman last season. Draco Smith came to NIU as a corner, but he's another guy who saw time as a true freshman last year. One dark horse to keep an eye on is redshirt freshman Jordan Huff, who has a ton of talent. However, NIU's strong depth could keep him off the field.
Thanks a lot to Steve Nitz from the DeKalb Daily Chronicle/Huskiewire.com. Follow his coverage of 2014 Northern Illinois football at www.huskiewire.com or on their Twitter account. Give Steve a follow on Twitter at @SNitz_DDC.