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: Justin Jackson (So.)
Others returning: Solomon Vault (So.), Warren Long (Jr.), Auston Anderson (RS Fr.), Stephen Buckley (Jr.), Xavier Menifield (So.)
Incoming recruits: John Moten
Biggest spring question: Can Solomon Vault or Auston Anderson give Northwestern a two-headed monster in the backfield?
There were glimpses of it last year. Solomon Vault's and Justin Jackson's play seemed to fit together like two puzzle pieces. Vault's speed and pass-catching ability looked great alongside Jackson's all-down game. The two freshmen looked to be a nice duo. Then, injuries derailed Vault's season and he never was able to get it going. Vault finished the season with just seven yards over Northwestern's last nine games, four of which he missed.
Vault is explosive enough to do damage with just a handful of carries in a game. He proved that in just his first few college games. Heading into his sophomore season, though, Vault will takeover the spot behind Jackson and will need to develop into a more consistent complement to one of the best backs in the Big Ten.
Then there's Auston Anderson. Anderson was a high-three star recruit and chose NU over Texas, Stanford, UCLA, Baylor, Cal, Arizona and Arizona State, among others. He probably had the best offer list of any NU recruit in the class of 2014. He was sold on NU when coaches showed him film of Venric Mark, and he's a speedster who can be very effective if used well.
With Anderson or Vault (or both) combining with Jackson, NU has the ability to do a lot of cool, innovative things, including some of the triple read option that we caught a glimpse of during 2013. If either of them can develop, then this could be a very efficient backfield.
Jackson absolutely has the starting job locked down and rightly so. Vault will most likely continue to contribute as both a receiver out of the backfield and as a change-of-pace runner. Anderson will try to get outside and can be used on triple read option or other option plays. Long, a bigger back, will take care of the bruising short-yardage situations. There's really no controversy in this group.
Our best guess at the depth chart
1. Justin Jackson
2. Solomon Vault/Warren Long/Auston Anderson