Football First Look: 2013 Offense

USA TODAY Sports

A look ahead to what to expect from the Northwestern offense in 2013

2013 started well for Northwestern football, with a bowl win to cap an excellent 2012 season. Our next question is, naturally, about what to expect when the team returns to play in the fall. Let's start with the offense.

Personnel: Departing

Starters

  1. LT Patrick Ward
  2. LG Brian Mulroe
  3. RG Neal Deiters
  4. WR Demetrius Fields
While Northwestern doesn't have an overwhelming number of departures, the concentration of those departures on the offensive line is a cause for concern. Ward and Mulroe were both excellent players who would be difficult to replace under any circumstances. Deiters was a decent role player who stepped into the lineup in his senior year; his departure wouldn't be a major cause for concern if his position were the only open slot on the line. As one of three departures, a reliable veteran may well be missed. Fields had a disappointing senior season, and he should be fairly easy to replace given the depth Northwestern has at receiver.

Contributors
  1. RB Tyris Jones
  2. SB Tim Riley
Jones isn't listed on the 2-deep, but his pass protection and occasional touches of the ball were assets. Riley played mainly as a fullback in pistol sets. Northwestern should be able to find solutions for both positions; Dan Vitale has a golden opportunity to absorb some of these responsibilities.

Backup
  1. RT Chuck Porcelli
Porcelli started the Syracuse game at right guard before losing his spot to Neal Deiters. His departure isn't a cause for concern unless injuries become a major issue on the line. Overall, Northwestern is going to be extremely young at OL next year, with no seniors likely to make the 2-deep. There are a few more departures, but they aren't important for next year's outlook.

Production: Departing

To get a better sense for how relevant the skill position losses are, here is how much production the departing players accounted for. The results understate the importance of the departures, since the most important players leaving are offensive linemen, but that's the nature of football stats.

Rushing: 50 of 595 carries (8.4%), 179 of 2932 yards (6.1%), 2 of 31 TDs (6.5%)

This includes Bo Cisek's 2 carries for -3 yards against Illinois, which might be kind of silly, but the bulk of these yards and carries came from Tyris Jones and include some garbage time anyway, so whatever. Tim Riley added 8 carries for 39 yards, mostly as a dive player on triple option plays. Jones had a somewhat larger sample, and he was significantly less productive than #2 running back Mike Trumpy with his carries, though some of those were short-yardage carries expected to produce fewer yards.

Receiving: 37 of 231 receptions (16%), 346 of 2198 yards (15.7%), 3 of 14 TDs (21.4%)

Demetrius Fields accounts for most of the catches and yards, with 33 for 305 on the season. He saw a major drop in production as the season went on, with 19 catches, 164 yards, and his only touchdown coming in the first three games; he had 2 games with no catches and 4 more with only 1 catch, all in conference play. His 9.24 YPC average was the lowest of the starting receivers and of his career. Tyris Jones and Tim Riley each caught a touchdown in their limited touches.

An Inaccurately Projected Depth Chart

The question marks on the depth chart are pretty obvious:

1. Who plays on the OL, and where do they play?
2. Who gets the nod as the starter in place of Fields?

I think I have some good guesses about the first part of question 1, while question 2 won't be answered until we get a depth chart for the Cal game and is mostly irrelevant anyways given the heavy rotation of Northwestern receivers. Dan Vitale is also likely to push for more PT, which would marginalize the fourth receiver slot. Here is a stab at next year's starters:

Y: Christian Jones
H: Kyle Prater
SB: Dan Vitale

On the line, I think Frazier and Jorgensen are good bets to start somewhere unless several of the freshmen (either redshirt or true) impress during camp. I put Jorgensen on the right and Konopka on the left on the analogy to moving Patrick Ward left and putting Konopka on the right this year; the actual situation will depend on what the coaches see in camp. Mogus was listed as the backup left guard this year, so I have him moving into that role, but there are several freshmen who could push for a spot in the lineup as well. Speaking of the freshmen on the OL, there will be a lot of guys with the chance to move into the starting lineup; even if none breaks into the starting 5, a few will probably be backups. Adam DePietro was the most highly touted recruit of the redshirt freshmen, while this year's incoming class has 4 OL commits. I wouldn't be surprised if one of the redshirt frosh starts, but expect the true freshmen all to redshirt.

At receiver, I promoted Kyle Prater and shuffled the positions. Christian Jones led the team in receptions and yards from the H position this year, so I have him moving to Y, the other inside position, which is where Northwestern tends to put the #1 option. Lawrence and Tony Jones both played well, mostly on the outside, this year; it is possible that one of them (probably Lawrence, since I saw him line up inside sometimes this year) will move inside next year. Prater's production this year was roughly equivalent to Cameron Dickerson, so I have those two as the early leaders for the fourth starting spot. Prater gets the nod because of his physical talents, though if he continues to struggle to realize his potential Dickerson or somebody else entirely could work into that spot. In any case, I would expect Vitale to be more heavily emphasized next year, which will squeeze receiver playing time a bit.

There aren't any obvious places for freshmen to win spots at the skill positions, so expect lots of redshirts on the incoming class. The roles that Tim Riley and Tyris Jones played could get spread between Dan Vitale and Mike Trumpy or handed to one or two players who impress in camp.
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