Trevor Siemian backs into the shotgun with the half winding down and the crowd in a deafening frenzy. Taking the snap and immediately facing a narrowing pocket, he fires a cross-shoulder strike to Cameron Dickerson, who outmuscles his man to snag the ball by the end-zone pylon. Back on Nov. 10, the touchdown knots the Wildcats with Michigan at 14 all, and it’s a tease of what the Northwestern offense would look like with a vertical threat.
“The first touchdown definitely boosted my confidence,” Dickerson said of a signature career moment. “It confirmed what I already knew: that I could play at this level.”
Despite their potent scoring attack, no Wildcat tallied even 500 receiving yards last year. No regular target averaged more than 12 yards a reception, and Northwestern’s longest passing play of the season–a 47-yard touchdown by Christian Jones against Iowa–seemed like an anomaly. Living through screen passes, short pitch-and-runs and in and out routes, “go long” was hardly ever muttered by offensive coordinator Mick McCall.
But, as he hinted in Ann Arbor for a moment, Cameron Dickerson could be the one to give the Cats that elusive downfield weapon. After catching just nine passes in 2012, Dickerson’s natural skill set coupled with the loss of Demetrius Fields opens up a greater opportunity for serious looks this fall.
“I’ve really tried to be a vocal leader, really lead by example,” Dickerson said after Northwestern wrapped up its last Tuesday practice of the spring session. “It’s been a great spring for myself, and all the receivers really. We’ve been working on establishing ourselves as the best in the Big Ten.”
It’s a tall task in an offense that frequents tackle-to-tackle runs and the zone-option. It’s even more daunting when considering the wealth of wideouts circulating the conference.
Dickerson knows that vertical passing is the one recent shortcoming for Northwestern’s speedy offense. If the Cats can add that final dimension, watch out.
“Our offense has been pretty West Coast, move the chains. Once we get that downfield threat, I feel like we’ll be very potent,” said quarterback Kain Colter. “Cam’s been stepping up...He’s a big, tall receiver; a physical guy.”
“Cam’s had a great spring, he’s taken the necessary steps to really be heavily involved in the offense,” Pat Fitzgerald added. “I’m very proud of his maturation.”
Hailing from Bergen Catholic High School in Englewood, N.J., Dickerson discussed an emphasis on academics and a desire to lead by example.
After redshirting his freshman year and sitting behind Rashad Lawrence at the Z spot in 2012, Dickerson’s waited his turn. But readiness goes beyond athleticism, frame and patience. Especially in deep passing, it’s all about knowing you can beat your man and make the play.
“That’s something that’s really important at the wide receiver position,” Dickerson said. “Confidence is 50 to 55 percent of the battle.”
Catching pass after pass in practice Tuesday, Dickerson builds that confidence, streaking to the end-zone on multiple routes. Going against veteran cornerback Daniel Jones, he’s taking every opportunity he can to learn more and step up.
“I’m trying to prove that I can be that deep threat,” he said. “I not only have to know the Z, I have to know the X, I have to know the Y and the H.”
Lawrence returns as a senior to man the slot once again. Dickerson will likely muscle his way into the starting lineup at the Y, but he’ll continue to foster a special type of competition for the Z spot. Lawrence is a big brother, Dickerson said.
“He’s always watching and critiquing my routes,” Dickerson said.
He added that Lawrence teaches him not to always focus on big plays, but rather, worry about small ball and mechanics first.
Things are far from settled as Pat Fitzgerald continues to toy with personnel in preliminary practice runs. As long as Dickerson continues to shine in practice and put in work, he should see plenty of reps in 2013. But then again, it doesn’t matter where Dickerson lines up to start, so long as the end destination is the same: deep downfield.