Northern Illinois University Head Football Coach Thomas Hammock met the media yesterday as spring ball is set to begin on Friday, March 19. The Huskies wrapped up their full offseason, one that Hammock calls a "treat" after having a limited offseason last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The lack of experience was an issue during the 2020 football season and it showed, as the Huskies finished 0-6 in the shortened season. After hitting the ground running in a normal offseason, Hammock thinks his group has really improved since the last time they were on the field.
"We've seen guys make tremendous strides in the weight room, with their football IQ, and from an athletic standpoint," Hammock said.
Hammock specifically talked about how the line on both sides of the ball "got bigger", while expressing his excitement for physical spring practices.
With young football teams comes lack of reps at the college level. Missed tackles is a product of youth. The amount of missed tackles in 2020 hurt the Huskies in close games. This year, Hammock says that will be different.
"We want to make sure we can tackle," he said. "We want to make sure we can take the ball away, create the plays that gives our offense better opportunities to score more points."
Scoring more points will be an emphasis for the Huskies this Spring and it all starts up front.
The Huskies will have all five offensive lineman return to the field this year. This may be the biggest key to the explosive offense Hammock is looking for.
"Number one, we have to protect the football," he said. "Number two, we have to create big plays. We have to be more dynamic and more explosive to score more points."
One question mark for the Huskies this season is the Quarterback spot. Ross Bowers is out. Rocky Lombardi, a Michigan State transfer, comes in. Where does that leave this room going into the spring?
"We've got four guys we feel really good about," Hammock said. "This spring is going to be a great evaluation time for us to get a look at them."
Lombardi arrives in Dekalb after a 1,090 passing-yard season with eight touchdowns and nine interceptions at Michigan State last season. Despite his Big Ten resumé, there will be others nipping at his heels for the top spot.
"Nothing was guaranteed to Rocky and he understands that," Hammock said.
However, in his short time in Dekalb, Lombardi has already made an impact on the Huskie coaching staff.
"What he's done every day is earned the respect of his teammates by the way he works," Hammock said. "He's a great leader, great worker, good football IQ, and high passion for the game."
Hammock praised Dustin Fletcher and Rodney Thompson for being able to compete with Lombardi this spring but mentioned freshman Aurora Christian graduate Ethan Hampton as someone who came to campus ready to work.
"He's not a typical Freshman," Hammock said. "He's not going to take a back seat to anyone and I can see him being very competitive this Spring."
When asked what his ideal quarterback's skill set consists of, Hammock stuck to his goal of being a dynamic offense.
"We want a guy who can provide some assistance with his legs," he said. "We want a guy who can throw the ball to our receivers."
Another positive note for the Huskies is the veteran leadership that returns to the field this fall.
"You get Kyle Pugh back, you get Lance DeVeaux back, Braydon Patton, Marcus Cox, all guys that have been in the program that understand what it takes to lead," Hammock said. "We have a nice balance of veteran leadership, and we have a lot of guys who have played, who can be a leaders, because they have experience and will do things the right way on and off the field."
Some big matchups stand out on the 2021 Huskies schedule, including a non-conference trip to Ann Arbor, MI. Hammock feels this schedule has a lot of opportunities for the Huskies this year.
"I feel it's very balanced," he said. "The non-conference will be a test for us but obviously we get an opportunity to go out there and show what were about, show the jumps and strides we've made as a football team."
Hammock also talked about the conference games at the end of the year saying that they have "tough crossover games" and "come November, teams could look drastically different than they did in September and October."
Hammock also noted that there will be no formal spring game this year, however there will be a "Spring Jamboree" on April 10 that will resemble a spring game setting.
Spring practice kicks off Friday.