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Northwestern Spring Practice Notes: Final Open Practice, 4/12/14

As sunlight turned to clouds and a beautiful day turned into one marred by menacing weather forecasts, Northwestern spring football 2014 came to an end Saturday. And it did so under some unfortunate, unforeseen circumstances.

A modest amount of fans had come to Ryan Field to see their Wildcats take the field for open practice, but weather meant the team had to scurry inside at around the halfway point. The whole situation was a bit chaotic, but nonetheless, here are some observations from both the indoor and outdoor portions.

- The chaos and mad scramble seemed to get to coach Pat Fitzgerald a bit. He was frustrated that the rhythm of the practice had been interrupted, and when he had trouble getting his team refocused and ensuring everything was set for practice to resume, he was seen yelling at a number of people every which way he turned. Fitzgerald actually said the circumstances were a good test for his team though. “With the storm coming in,” he said, “we had to adjust quickly, which was a good challenge for the guys. And I thought the guys came back and finished practice well.”

- A few practice participation notes: Warren Long was not in pads, but that shouldn’t incite any worries. Long appears fine, and has had a solid spring.

Ifeadi Odenigbo, after missing most of the spring, practiced today. He did not run with the first string defense, but that’s likely due to his extended absence more than anything. It’s nice to see him back in pads, as he could be an impact player this season on the defensive line.

Finally, in the secondary, Nick Van Hoose was MIA for roughly the last 30 minutes of practice. Keith Watkins was in his place at left cornerback with the first teamers. There was no official word on Van Hoose with regards to any injury.

- Drew Smith was again occupying the one linebacker spot that appears to be up for grabs. He and Jimmy Hall are the logical candidates for a starting role, and as of late, Smith appears to be getting more run alongside Collin Ellis and Chi Chi Ariguzo.

After practice, Fitzgerald lauded the athleticism of the linebacker unit in general. He singled out Collins Ellis – who is moving to middle linebacker after playing outside last season – and said, “it ain’t bad having a Ragin’ Cajun with a crazy look in his eye being the leader of your defense.”

- C.J. Robbins and Greg Kuhar were again working with the first team defensive line, as Chance Carter remained with the second team. “I can’t tell you where we’re going to be [with the defensive line] at in the fall,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s a major work in progress.” He referenced injuries as the reason why.

- During almost every practice this spring, Northwestern has run plays to get the ball to Miles Shuler in space. Whether it’s a screen pass or a reverse, both of which we saw today, Shuler is an explosive athlete that could add another dimension to the offense.

Note: if you were at spring practice and saw number five with “Mark” on the back of his jersey, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was in fact Venric Mark. It wasn’t though; it was Shuler.

- Matt Alviti showed glimpses Saturday of what makes him such an intriguing prospect. He exhibited his ability to extend plays with his legs, rolling out to his left on multiple occasions and at least once breaking into the secondary.

However, Alviti also made a play that was a perfect example of why he’s not yet ready. In 7-on-7 red zone drills, the redshirt freshman had a receiver break open on a deep post route. If the throw was on time, it was a touchdown. But Alviti seemingly failed to read the play appropriately, and the opportunity passed. The ball did eventually come out, but it was late, and should’ve been picked off by Parrker Westphal.

- Kyle Queiro made the play of the day on defense, stepping up from his Safety position to make an interception in traffic. He appeared to get the wind knocked out of him, and stumbled off the field moaning in pain, but held on to the ball for the pick.

- Josh will have an article up later on the latest union developments, but one topic that safety Traveon Henry addressed was the effect all the union talk has had on the team.

“It’s amazing to see how what we’re going through has actually brought us together as a team,” the junior said. “Now we have an open line of communication, no one is afraid to speak up. I’ve heard voices that I’ve never heard before speak up and voice their opinion, and I’m starting to build a lot of respect for those individuals on the team.”

- To conclude, here are a couple classic Fitz moments for your entertainment…

First, a reporter asked, “how much have you had to prepare yourself personally for the outcome [of the players’ vote], whatever it is, and the pros and cons of each side?” Fitz’s answer was to stare at the reporter and not even open his mouth, until it became clear that he wasn’t going to answer the question. Pretty soon, the next question came without the previous one being answered.

Later, after a few consecutive union-related questions, a reporter asked a football-related question and Fitz cut him off mid sentence to say, “are we talking about football again? Oh, okay, thanks,” and then fielded the question.