Spring practice has now finished up for Northwestern and over the past couple of months we've been able to learn about how each position group is shaping up for the fall. Following the "spring game" we will be posting group reviews detailing "The Good," "The Bad" and "The Biggest Question" facing each group. We start first with the defensive line.
Entering the spring, it was evident that this would be one of Northwestern's slimmest position group. The receiving corps did not perform well last season, and the Wildcats' top two wideouts are now pursuing professional careers.
But there is some good news. NU returns a diverse group of wide receivers with both size and speed. For Cameron Dickerson, Miles Shuler and Pierre Youngblood-Ary, the athleticism is there. Their route running and ball skills aren't great, but they are attributes that can be improved upon.
The superbacks run super deep too. Dan Vitale is back and looks better than ever. It appears that Garrett Dickerson will be more of a threat in the passing game this year, and Jayme Taylor is solid in blocking and check down routes.
Getting Christian Jones back is huge, but the fact that his recovery process should take four months provides reason for concern. It's unlikely that Jones returns to his 2013 form if he isn't ready to fully participate until August or even September.
After Jones, there's a lot athleticism and a lot of returners, but no one else has proven to be a consistent offensive threat. Cameron Dickerson and Shuler are the only returning wideouts who caught more than 9 balls last season, and they only combined for 47 receptions.
Spring practice revealed that Solomon Vault should be moving to wide receiver, joining former running back Stephen Buckley in the slot. Vault will be a great weapon in the open field, but with several backs moving to receiver, it's pretty obvious NU is thin at wideout. Andrew Scanlan and Austin Carr don't look like Big Ten wideouts.
And the worst of the worst from spring practice is also in the wide receiver group. Mike McHugh was wearing two walking boots and had to use a scooter for one of his legs, which seems like the furthest thing from an enjoyable experience.
The Big Question
How many guys will step up?
It's pretty clear which players are going to play wide receiver this season. Jones, Dickerson and Shuler are all locks, and McHugh and Vault will see significant action. But will any of them make a big jump from their previous production?
It's really hard to say at this point. Dickerson dropped way too many balls last season. Shuler and Vault were not involved in the passing game enough because of injuries, and Christian Jones is coming off an ever worse setback.
There will certainly be some increase numbers wise because Kyle Prater and Tony Jones aren't getting targets anymore. However, Dan Vitale is the only constant the Wildcats can leave spring with. Pat Fitzgerald has his work cut for him at receiver.