First Practice at 4 PM
Since the 31-24 loss to Illinois last November, personnel questions have swirled around the Wildcats, and not just around the coaching staff.
Last week the coaches made 3 player moves in an attempt to address some weaknesses, but as the spring practice period starts today, we'd like to ask the ones that appear obvious to us at Purple Reign.
Questions...as we start Spring Drills.
To start out, there are a few things you won't worry about...
Jason Wright will bring his all around rushing talents back for
his Senior year. Averaging 5.6 yards a carry, 102.8 yards and a TD a
game, he's the bright spot on a team that had some rough games on
offense last year.
Jason is backed up by Noah Herron - who averaged 5.5 ypc. Last
Spring, many thought Herron would become the 3rd down back - he does
show the ability to come through the middle but NU coach Randy Walker is known for riding one "guy" through the season.
In addition, the Cats start the Spring with 3 Quarterbacks with game experience. Odds on leader coming in is Soph Bret Basanez - averaging 220.4 ypg passing and another 9.6 rushing [with a broken leg].
Will the Wildcats effectively replace Jeff Roehl and Austin King ?
You know, it all starts on the Offensive Line, and on the line it starts with the Center.
I'm not sure of the exact numbers, but for the last 3 years NU has had one center - Austin King.
He's had a few problems with the shotgun snap, but since taking over
the position as a Freshman, the guy in the middle of the offense has
been King. Senior Carl Matejka, considered by some coaches as a natural right guard, will take over the snapping duties this spring backed up by Frosh Jim Devine.
Carl is a big kid - 6-4 315 - and does have Big 10 experience in the middle, but Austin's left some big shoes to fill.
I was actually more concerned with the graduation of Jeff Roehl. He's been a 3 year force up front, even when injuries midseason forced him out to Tackle. If another center appears, expect Matejka to move back to the right guard spot, meanwhile Junior Bill Newton has been filling in up front for 2 years.
The rest of the O-Line is unchanged from the end of the season. 2 big guys - Fr Joe Tripodi and Jr. Scott Crohn will sit out the spring as they rehab injuries.
I'd watch to see how well Freshman Jim Devine does backing up Matejka - and remember that there are 2 centers coming in with this year's freshman class.
Will the Wildcats solidify the Linebacking Corps?
8 different players started at Linebacker for the Cats last year, 4 in the middle - the defensive QB.
Will Alexander Webb return to his pre-injury form and really challenge Bret Basanez?
The 6th play injury to Pat Durr started what seemed like a
musical chairs approach to linebacking at NU as the coaches tried to
find a trio that could work together to execute the new defense. Losing Durr at least set the 'backers back three or four games, games that might have been different with a solid 3.
This spring, linebacker coach Pat Fitzgerald gets to look at a couple of backups - as Durr, sometime starters Soph Eric VanderHorst and Jr. Ryan Peterson
get to watch. VanderHorst had earned a few starts at the end of the season last year. Peterson had been mentioned as the possible new
Middle Linebacker in years past - but he's been hurt most of his career.
What will be worth watching is how former Walk-on Doug Szymul performs in the middle. He's also listed as "Will" LB Tim McGarigle's backup so we'll also see a couple of frosh - Demetrius Eaton and Erryn Cobb also try their abilities there.
Braden Jones will also be trying to regain his "Sam" OLB slot as Freshman Campbell Black gets a look on the strong side also.
VanderHorst and Jones shared the starting roll outside towards the end of last season. Jones could really solidify his possition there with a good performance in the
spring, but with three quality guys sitting out, anyone who tries to draw conclusions from the spring might wind up being wrong.
I'm sure the sprit will be willing, until a tackle and an end come at him from two sides.
How much will we miss Jon Schweighardt?
The star of last spring had to have been Alexander Webb. He came in from high school and essentially gave NU a QB controversy until RW made his decisions at Kenosha.
Right now he's backing up Basanez as a Freshman [again] and fighting
for playing time. On one hand, you hope that a clear #1 emerges from
the Spring, on the other hand, last year, Offensive Coordinator Mike Dunbar could just keep running QBs in and out until he found one who was hot that day.
Those of us who watched Webb run the O up and down the field last spring and only hope that the prognosis is really positive.
Lets face it, since his injury his Freshman year, you can
hardly find a Northwestern 2 deep that hasn't had Jon on it as the X
receiver. Like it or not, Schweighardt became NU's possession receiver.
Does NU have a Quarterback Controversy?
Last year he caught 58 for 719 yards in 12 games - that's a 12.4 per catch average and he led all receivers with nearly 60 yards in
receptions per game.
Well, maybe not yet. Next Saturday night [at the NGN Auction], maybe. After the Spring Game????
Brett Basanez would have to be the clear #1 right now. Folks forget that 2 years ago, Brett was hanging around during the Spring so much that the players wanted to get him into the spring game, they liked his style and enthusiasm.
As the leading freshman QB last year in passing yardage, and #2 in the Big 10 overall, you