With spring practice set to start on Wednesday, check out five freshman to watch. We concentrate on redshirt freshmen because they're the ones who will be at NU in the spring:
Jayme Taylor, SB, Redshirt Freshman
I'll be honest, when I was making this list last year and looking for freshmen who would make an impact early in their careers, Taylor didn't come to mind. However, after redshirting during 2013, Taylor is in position to be a breakout freshman for the Wildcats. We've heard great things about Taylor from people around the program, and on his alumni speaking tour, Pat Fitzgerald has reportedly singled out Taylor on numerous occasions.
Northwestern is set at superback for the coming years. Dan Vitale was hobbled at the end of last year, but has shown a lot of potential since arriving in Evanston. Then there's Taylor, who can serve as a very capable backup — something NU hasn't had at superback in awhile. True freshman Garrett Dickerson could also enter the mix. He was listed as a TE/DE coming out of high school, but NU wants him to be a superback, at least initially. There's a lot to like at this position, and Taylor should contribute in 2014.
Eric Joraskie, DT, Redshirt Freshman
We pegged Joraskie as a potential true freshman contributor last year, since Northwestern figured to be short on depth at defensive tackle. The Wildcats certainly needed the help at defensive tackle, but Joraskie ended up redshirting. Now, with a year under his belt to transition to the college game, he figures to be a contributor for NU.
The Wildcats still need to add to their depth at defensive tackle, and Joraskie will be a welcome contributor. There are some other relatively new contributors who are expected to step up, but Joraskie should be the youngest member of the defensive tackle rotation. With Sean McEvilly out for the spring, we should get a chance to see a lot of Joraskie.
Godwin Igwebuike, S, Redshirt Freshman
Igwebuike received as much interest as anyone in his class last year. He was one of NU's top recruits in 2013, and before the season began, the coaches had to decide whether to use him as a running back or a safety. They settled on safety, and although he redshirted, he wasn't forgotten — fans are still excited to see what he can do. People around the program have told us they expect big things from Igwebuike, and this year, he might get a chance to show off a little of what he can do.
Igwebuike and fellow freshman safety Kyle Queiro should have the chance to compete for a backup safety role behind the well-established top three of Ibraheim Campbell, Traveon Henry and Jimmy Hall. Position battles aren't won in the spring, but it will be interesting to see how Igwebuike looks when he gets significant reps.
Parrker Westphal, CB, True Freshman
The most popular freshman at NU's spring practices will be the last one mentioned in this post, Westphal is a close second. He's the first early enrollee of the Pat Fitzgerald era, and he was one of the Wildcats' top recruits in 2014, choosing NU over Florida, Michigan, Michigan State and many others. He was a star for Bolingbrook High School, but now we'll get to see how he can do in college.
The depth chart at cornerback is crowded. For as many woes as the Wildcats have had at that spot in recent years, they're actually in pretty good shape this upcoming season, with Nick VanHoose, Matt Harris, Daniel Jones and Dwight White coming back. With Jones out for spring ball, is there a chance Westphal could get some second team reps? He has a long way to go to learn everything, but we'll at least get a glimpse of him this spring.
Matt Alviti, QB, Redshirt Freshman
This spring, we'll get to see Matt
The Savior Alviti in action, possibly taking reps with the second team. For those hoping that Pat Fitzgerald is going to give Alviti the starting spot and the keys to the offense in his first spring practice, you might want to find something else to wish for. This is Trevor Siemian's team, and even if Alviti impresses during the spring, he's not winning the starting spot — if there's any quarterback competition, it will be in the fall.
Still, it will be interesting to see Alviti in action. He showed off his strong arm on the scout team this fall, and his scrambling/play-making ability is well-documented. How will he do with better players and NU's playbook surrounding him? This spring, we'll get the first part of that answer.