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Spring Practice Report, 2/28: Offensive Line Battles and Starting Practice Early

by Kevin Trahan (@k_trahan)

Check out the best notes and quotes from Northwestern's second spring practice, and check out video from Pat Fitzgerald, Geoff Mogus and Traveon Henry here.

Piecing together the offensive line

Of all Northwestern's units, the offensive line looks like the biggest question mark at this point. Only two of five starters return from last year, and with three major pieces — tackle Jack Konopka, guard Matt Frazier and tackle Paul Jorgensen — out with injuries, it's even harder to piece together what the offensive line might look like. We'll have more on the offensive line later in spring practice, but these were the starters today.

LT: Shane Mertz
LG: Geoff Mogus
C: Brandon Vitabile
RG: Adam DePietro
RT: Eric Olson

Of those players, only Vitabile has a starting spot locked down. Things get muddled when Konopka, Frazier and Jorgensen come back, and we'll also have to factor in some of the new guys who could work their way into the two-deep, such as table Kenton Playko. However, here's how, preliminarily, things may shape up for next year.

LT: Jack Konopka, Shane Mertz OR Paul Jorgensen
LG: Geoff Mogus, Hayden Baker
C: Brandon Vitabile, Ian Park
RG: Matt Frazier OR Adam DePietro
RT: Shane Mertz OR Paul Jorgensen, Eric Olson

A lot could change, specifically at tackle, where Frazier or DePietro could theoretically switch sides and both start. However, based off where they've played in the past, this is the most accurate projection we could get up to this point. We'll keep watching this one throughout spring practice to see how the pieces fall.

Starting Practice Early

Northwestern started spring practice early this year, and due to a long break in the middle, the Wildcats will still end the spring practice period in mid-April. It's an unorthodox way of scheduling spring practice, but it allows Fitzgerald and his staff a lot of time to teach the young guys before summer starts. Here's what Fitzgerald had to say on the the matter.

"We moved it up to maximize every stinking day the NCAA gives us to be able to teach," Fitzgerald said. "So tomorrow (in the film room) is equally, if not more important than today. When we're in the classroom, when we're walking through, showing the guys exactly what we're talking about. We just went out and failed that — a bunch of guys. Let's go watch it on video, let's go watch it, let's go out and execute it again and see if we can create proper habit, whatever it might be.

"The back end, the guys that we have injured from the season, they'll be able to matriculate back in with the team kind of that third week of April. And then we'll really have a lot of time in the weight room together with that whole group. Right now they're doing rehab. So if we were just doing rehab in (extension to) our winter, they wouldn't be apart of the team. Now they're out in practice. They wouldn't be in pushing each other, and they will be once we go wheels up in the next phase after spring."

Learning from Last Year

Northwestern is embracing "5:03" this spring, to remember that it was 5 minutes and 3 seconds away from being undefeated. For Fitzgerald, spring practice is about correcting last year's mistakes.

"Well we can't get the games back," he said. "What's done is done. But we have to learn from our previous experiences. 10 of the games, we played really well. We had people down or we had to come back a little bit, and then when we had momentum we were kind of able to choke that team out and put them away. In three games we weren't able to accomplish that. If we were able to accomplish that in those three games like we did in the other 10, we would be having a little different story.

"You've got to teach from that. You've got to learn from it. You've got to look at all the variables of what happened. So out here it's more macro stuff, like when I was just talking to the team about, 'Did you feel the momentum? Could you sense it? Okay, this is what we have to do in that situation defensively. This is what we have to do offensively if we don't have it. But then in the micro, when we get in the film room and we're doing some different things with our cut-ups — what we did well, what we executed well, a communication breakdown, a missed tackle or a missed throw, or whatever it might be — those are the little things that just really emphasize that we have to do what we do. Don't try to do too much. Don't try to make up a two-score deficit in one play. Things like that."