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Northwestern practice notes, 9/17

Fitz and his staff aren't easing up on the players as the week goes on.

David Banks

- For the second day in a row, the weather for practice was impeccable – though this is probably a case of ‘enjoy it while it lasts.’

- If you thought the intermittent practice stoppages for ‘up-downs’ were temporary things, you might have to think again. The team did even more today than yesterday, and some of the players looked absolutely gassed.

- Once again, coach Pat Fitzgerald had the first-team offense matched up with the second-team defense, and the first-team defense matched up with the second-team offense. It’s likely for gameplan purposes, and makes sense, but it also means that it’s tough to take too much away from practice performances on either side of the ball.

- Practice began with some kickoff return work. First, the return unit was tested with a few onside kicks, one of which they struggled with, and then fielded squib kicks and deep kicks. The four returners, who were rotating, were Justin Jackson, Miles Shuler, Solomon Vault and Tim Hanrahan. Shuler had one nice return behind some strong blocking.

- Two of the focuses of practice were red zone and third down.

- Freshman quarterback Clayton Thorson continues to flash his ability, but also makes occasional throws that highlight the improvements that still need to come. During third-down seven-on-sevens, he misfired on one crossing route and the ball fell right into the lap of safety Ibraheim Campbell. But a few plays later, he dropped in a beautiful ball to Mark Gorogianis (a reserve wide receiver) on a sideline go route.

- Among the receivers, it’s become clear that Miles Shuler is the one getting the most separation on a consistent basis. He looked good today, but then let a touchdown slip through has hands on a play that was eerily similar to his costly drop against Northern Illinois.

- One of the most crisp plays of the day was a red zone pass from Trevor Siemian to Kyle Prater on a slant pattern. Those are the kind of plays that allow Prater to take advantage of his big frame, and it’s a great example of the way Fitzgerald and offensive coordinator Mick McCall should be using him.

- The Wildcats have been wearing white helmets this week (pictured below), and will wear them on Saturday against Western Illinois. After practice, Fitz seemed a bit bemused by the media’s interest in them.