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Fall practice day 5: News and Notes

Northwestern wrapped up week one of fall practice Friday, looking a bit sloppier than day one. According to coach Pat Fitzgerald, this is due to the large amount of mental preparation that the coaching staff has been throwing at the players this week. The team will practice once more tomorrow then head up to Kenosha on Sunday, where they will really start to focus on the physical preparation. Some notes from Friday’s practice:

-Mike Jensen and Tony Jones were practicing the majority of kickoff and punt returns. Jones had two punt returns and seven kick returns last year while Jensen had none. Venric Mark took the majority of all returns and was one of the most electric returners in the country, with two punts returned for touchdowns. There’s no reason to believe he won’t be used in that capacity again, but given how valuable he is to the offense overall, he may rotate with other returners more than he did last year to minimize risk of injury.

-Kain Colter’s arm looks strong. He connected on several 30+ yard passes, though it was during drills and he wasn’t facing any pressure. He has undoubtedly improved his passing skills since the beginning of last season which could give NU even more options on offense with the Colter/Siemian combo. In other QB news, redshirt freshman Christian Salem got a lot of reps, signaling a potential move up the depth chart. He did look sharper on his passes than sophomores Zack Oliver and P.J. Carollo, though the whole unit was a bit off today so it’s probably not a great indication quite yet.

-In wide receiver news, Kyle Prater slipped and appeared to hurt his leg. He walked it off and, after a few minutes, kept practicing but it’s something to keep an eye on. Redshirt freshman receiver Austin Carr made some insanely athletic catches. He’s 6’1” with an impressive vertical and he’s very athletic in the air. He’ll have the advantage on most jump balls. Wide receiver Pierre Youngblood-Ary showed off his speed during one-on-one drills.

-Redshirt freshman linebacker Jaylen Prater and walk-on freshman linebacker Josh Roberts really impressed during one-on-one drills. They physically ran over their opponent in nearly every matchup.  While two of the three linebacker spots are set, and the third will be a competition between Drew Smith and Collin Ellis, Prater could compete for a back-up position over more veteran guys. As a freshman and walk-on, Roberts probably won’t see playing time this season but he showed potential for a lot of growth. Roberts wasn’t the only impressive freshman this week though; read more about the freshmen’s first week of camp here.

-Sophomore Traveon Henry is solidifying his starting spot at safety. He wasn’t a guaranteed starter to begin camp but he’s been impressive in practice and on Friday, he made a good read and intercepted a ball by Colter and was taking the majority of snaps with the first team.

-“Nothing is clear on the offensive line. It won’t be for a while. Stop asking about it.”—not word for word, but basically what Fitzgerald said regarding the position battles on the o-line.

-Fitzgerald is seriously stressing a fast-paced camp. Especially during transitions between drills, every coach was yelling “up-tempo!” and starting drills before all the players had even arrived at their spots.  Fitzgerald himself was running all over the field, though that isn’t unusual from past years. In fact, I can’t imagine Fitz has ever been one to stand still when he’s anywhere near a football field.