Northern Illinois University football coach Thomas Hammock met with the media yesterday with spring ball scheduled for Friday the 19th. March, will begin. The Huskies finished their entire offseason, which Hammock said was a treat after last year’s limited offseason due to the COWID-19 pandemic.

Lack of experience was a problem in the 2020 football season and it showed as the Huskies finished the season shortened by lockouts 0-6. After getting back on track in the offseason, Hammock feels his group has really improved since the last time he was on the field.

We’ve seen guys make great strides in the weight room with their football IQ and from an athletic standpoint, Hammock said.

Hammock spoke specifically about how the line has grown on both sides of the ball while expressing his excitement for spring physical training.

NIU struggled in the shortened 2020 campaign. Coach Thomas Hammock looks forward to the future with his line on both sides of the ball.
Photo: NIU Athletics

With young football teams comes a lack of representation at the college level. Missing goods are a product of youth. The number of missed tackles in 2020 is hurting the Huskies in close games. This year, Hammock says, will be different.

We want to make sure we can handle it, he said. We want to make sure we can get the ball and give the offense better opportunities to score more points.

Scoring more points will be a priority for the Huskies this spring, and it starts early.

All five of the Huskies’ offensive linemen return to the field this year. This could be the biggest clue to the explosive that Hammock’s looking for.

Number one: We need to protect football, he said. Number two: We need to make great games. We need to be more dynamic and explosive to score more points.

A question mark for the Huskies this season is the quarterback position. Ross Bowers is out. Rocky Lombardi, Michigan State’s transfer, has arrived. And where is the space in the spring?

We have four guys that we are very happy with, Hammock said. This spring we will be taking a closer look at the equipment.

Rocky Lombardi enters the NIU Huskies QB room looking for a starting spot. Lombardi transferred from Michigan State to NIU.
Photo: Mike Mulholland

Lombardi comes to Dekalb after a season with 1,090 passing yards, eight touchdowns and nine interceptions at Michigan State last season. Despite his Big Ten record, others will take the win.

Nothing was guaranteed for Rocky, and he understands that, Hammock said.

But since Lombardi arrived in Dekalb, he has already impressed the Huskies’ coaching staff.

For what he does every day, he has earned the respect of his teammates, Hammock said. He is a great leader, a great worker, he has a good football IQ and a great passion for the game.

Hammock praised Dustin Fletcher and Rodney Thompson for competing with Lombardi this spring, but he mentioned Ethan Hampton, a recent Aurora Christian graduate, as someone who arrived on campus ready to go.

He’s not a typical freshman, Hammock said. He won’t be anyone’s competitor, and I think he will be very competitive this spring.

When asked what his ideal quarterback skills consist of, Hammock stuck to his goal of a dynamic offense.

We need a man who can help us with our legs. We need a guy who can throw the ball to our receivers.

Another positive for the Huskies is the return of veterans to the field this fall.

You bring back Kyle Pugh, you bring back Lance DeVoe, Braydon Patton, Marcus Cox, all those guys who were in the program and understand what it takes to lead, Hammock said. We have a good balance of veterans in leadership, and we have a lot of guys that have played and can be leaders because they have experience and will do things well on and off the field.

The Huskies’ 2021 schedule features a number of key games, including a trip to Ann Arbor, Mass. Hammock thinks the roster offers plenty of opportunities for the Huskies this year.

I feel like he’s very balanced, he said. The non-conference will be a test for us, but obviously we’ll have a chance to show what we’ve been working on, to show the leaps and bounds and the successes we’ve had as a football team.

Hammock also talked about the games at the end of the year, saying that they have a tough crossover game and that teams could be very different in November than they were in September and October.

Hammock also noted that there will be no official spring game this year, but there will be a spring jamboree on April 10, which will be organized in the same manner as the spring game.

Spring training begins Friday.

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