SIU’s Berner tackles new role at defensive tackle
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Since his redshirt freshman season in Carbondale, Jordan Berner has been a fixture at defensive end.
That is, until injuries demolished the Southern Illinois depth chart this spring.
The loss of two defensive tackles for the season to injury forced the Salukis’ coaches to get creative and slide Berner into the middle of the line in late March against Missouri State.
“He’s just an athlete, so he’s tough to block,” SIU head coach Nick Hill said. “He’s going to be more athletic than anybody he lines up against.”
Over the past three games at tackle, including Saturday’s first-round playoff victory at No. 3 Weber State, Berner has collected 13 tackles, five tackles for loss, three sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
In the Salukis’ 34-31 playoff upset – their first postseason victory since 2009 – Berner’s six tackles matched his career high in a single game, which he also achieved in 2018 against South Dakota and 2017 against Northern Iowa.
Berner’s play has consistently wowed Hill and his coaching staff since the move to tackle.
“I don’t know if there’s a player playing harder and better in the country than Berner,” Hill said. “If teams game plan us, 92 is an excellent player.”
A native of Chester, Ill., located less than 40 miles west of SIU’s campus, Berner was a three-sport athlete in high school.
In his career, the 270-pound Berner has racked up 22.5 tackles for loss, 10.5 sacks, five fumble recoveries and two blocked kicks.
“He’s so long. He’s got long arms. He’s super athletic,” Hill said. “Jordan is one of the best athletes on our team.”
After Western Illinois opted out of the season and the Salukis’ schedule was in limbo, the team held a home run derby, which Berner won.
“We played knockout one day and he won that,” Hill said. “He can dunk a ball any way you want.”
The active Berner will be a key piece in SIU’s efforts to stop the South Dakota State ground game in the FCS quarterfinals at 8 p.m. Sunday, May 2. (ESPN2)
The Jackrabbits rank sixth in the nation with 239.9 yards on the ground thanks to an attack that features 2019 second-team All-American running back Pierre Strong, freshman quarterback and Missouri Valley Football Conference Offensive Player of the Year Mark Gronowski and freshman running back Isaiah Davis, a member of this spring’s MVFC All-Newcomer team.
“To stop the run you have to be good at the defensive line position,” Hill said. “You’ve got to be good at the point of attack. That’s where it starts and stops. If you’re not, they’ve got backs to create some serious problems.”