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 Starter: Dan Vitale (SR)
Other Returning Players: Garrett Dickerson (SO), Mark Szott (SR), Jayme Taylor (RS SO)
Incoming Recruits: None
Biggest Spring Question: Can Mick McCall get the most out of a three-man superback rotation?
Superback, as the name might imply, is a weird position at Northwestern. Dan Vitale is by no means a blocking tight end, yet he gets snaps as a full back every once in a while. Jayme Taylor is not a whole lot like Vitale, and Garret Dickerson isn’t a whole lot like either one of them. They all have very different body types and skills and to Mick McCall’s credit, he specialized the three tight ends who did play (Vitale, Dickerson and Taylor) to get all three on the field.
Last year, McCall experimented a lot with two tight-end sets. In a lot of short yardage situations, Northwestern went under center, brought on Dickerson, and tried to blow teams off the line. It didn’t exactly work very often. Still, there are a lot of positives to take away from last year. Vitale was second on the team in both receptions and yards, hauling in 40 balls for 402 yards and 2 scores. Dickerson and Taylor were both on the field a lot, but neither one exactly racked up stats. Dickerson caught 4 balls for 44 yards and Taylor caught 9 balls for 45.
Vitale might well be the best receiving target Northwestern has coming back this year, depending on Christian Jones’ health. Vitale has subtle speed, a reliable set of hands, and can be put in a lot of different places all over the field. There’s a lot of Drake Dunsmore in Vitale. Dunsmore had an inch and some weight on Vitale, but both were athletic guys who, despite being great players, never got enough targets. Vitale is good for at least one 100-yard game where everyone thinks that he’s finally going to become the focal point for the passing game, but then he’ll go 3 games where he only sees 7 balls come his way. Much as I would love to see it, I don’t think Vitale is going to see his receptions take a big jump this year, even with a lack of talent at wide receiver.
Dickerson and Taylor are intriguing. Taylor is a big boy at 6-foot-4, 230 pounds. He is still going to be in a deep reserve role, but he is a physical specimen, and by the time Vitale leaves, Taylor will probably be a pretty useful piece. But I’m guessing most people digging through this article are here to read/talk about big Dickerson. Snagging Dickerson was nothing short of a recruiting coup, as he had offers from just about every elite program in the whole country. Dickerson played a bunch for a true freshmen, even if most of his snaps were just as a blocking tight end. With Vitale still having a stranglehold on the top spot on the depth chart, Dickerson will still be in just an auxiliary role this year, but it’d be nice to see him closer to 15 receptions this year. Such a physical specimen needs the rock in his hands.
There isn’t going to be a whole lot of drama in this group. Vitale is the undisputed leader of the depth chart, Dickerson is second, Taylor will be used in spots, and that’s going to be about it. The real question is how McCall chooses to use the talent he has.
Our best guess at the depth chart
1. Dan Vitale
2. Garrett Dickerson
3. Jayme Taylor