The InsideNU spring guide is back as we get set for Northwestern's spring football practice. Practice starts February 25 and runs through the spring "game" on April 11, with a break for finals and the school's regularly scheduled spring break. We'll run through each position unit to let you know what to watch once practice begins.
Returning starters: None
Others returning: Clayton Thorson (RS Fr), Matt Alviti (So), Zack Oliver (Sr)
Incoming recruits: Lloyd Yates
Biggest spring question: What does Clayton Thorson offer?
Overall, I suppose the major question is who ends up winning the starting job. Pat Fitzgerald has stated that this is a three-way competition, and knowing how Fitzgerald operates, it's unlikely anyone will be named the starter after the spring, and it may still technically be a three-way competition.
Still, we'll have the opportunity to learn a lot about how each of the quarterbacks could be used, and possibly some new quirks in the offense. Given that we've already seen a lot from Matt Alviti and Zack Oliver, Clayton Thorson is going to be the quarterback that everyone's hoping to see. That isn't to say Alviti and Oliver can't improve, but Thorson is the biggest unknown, and he's also the player a lot of people expect to be the future of the program.
Thorson was a four-star recruit coming out of high school, and he had offers from Penn State, Iowa, Ole Miss, Illinois and others. He ranked as the ninth-best "pro-style" quarterback in his class by the 247 Sports composite ratings, but he isn't a statue like other pro-style quarterbacks. While he isn't the run-first player that Kain Colter was, he's mobile and capable as a runner, but also has a good arm. Alviti was the original "hometown savior quarterback recruit," but Thorson was actually ranked a little bit higher, and some services really liked him — 247 gave him a 96 rating, as the 74th best player overall, fifth best pro-style quarterback and second best player in Illinois.
Thorson didn't disappoint in practice, either. Granted, he was playing with the scout team for much of the time, but he showed an impressive arm and the mobility of quarterbacks who have generally been successful under offensive coordinator Mick McCall (think Mike Kafka). Some players within the program considered him the best quarterback on the roster when Siemian was injured.
Of course, there will be a learning curve, and nobody is expecting Thorson to be a star right away. He might not even be as good as healthy Trevor Siemian. But his arm and mobility — combined with some very talented running backs — give NU a new dimension, and this spring, he'll get the opportunity to play with the first team. For a program whose fans desperately needs to see something different, Thorson's presence will be welcome this spring. Now it's time to see what he's got.
The whole unit is a position battle, as previously mentioned. It's a three-way race at this point, and don't expect that to change — at least officially — at the end of the spring.
Our best guess at the depth chart
1. Clayton Thorson
2. Matt Alviti
3. Zack Oliver