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. The defensive backs are the last group.
Both cornerback positions and one of the two safety starting spots have pretty much been filled, according to head coach Pat Fitzgerald following Northwestern's final spring practice, bringing stability to the backend of Northwestern's defense. Senior Nick VanHoose and junior Matt Harris will again start at the cornerback spots, making it the third season in a row where the two corners will be paired together. Senior safety Traveon Henry has also started the last two seasons along with VanHoose and Harris. Although, Fitzgerald didn't name him among the handful of players he said were starters following spring ball, sophomore Godwin Igwebuike will, in all likelihood, fill in opposite Henry at safety. As a freshman in 2014, Igwebuike made five starts filling in for Henry or Ibraheim Campbell and played pretty well.
Historically, there are has been one major issue that has hampered Northwestern football when competing with the Big Ten's top programs: depth. On paper, the four likely starters look to be pretty good and can matchup fairly well with any other group of defensive backs in the conference. But if one of them goes down, the talent can drop significantly. At safety, Kyle Queiro looks like the next option. The sophomore played a bit last season, but looked raw when making reads. He has the athleticism to play in the defensive backfield, but it remains to be seen if his instincts have progressed enough to be a consistent performer. At cornerback, Northwestern has a bunch of highly regarded, yet unproven options on the depth chart. Parrker Westphal came into Northwestern labeled as one of the best recruits of Pat Fitzgerald's tenure, but, due to injury, he has barely seen the practice field. Sophomores Keith Watkins and Marcus McShepard seem to hold their own in practice but haven't been able to show much during games so far in their careers.
The Biggest Question
What happened to Traveon Henry last season?
During his first full year as a starter in 2013, Traveon Henry wasn't the fastest player. But he also wasn't really burned too often nor did he make many bad plays that exposed his speed. In 2014, though, Henry was pretty close to a disaster in a few games. Take this play against Cal in the opener:
Henry repeatedly took bad angles in coverage and in pursuit of ball-carriers last season, exposing his lack of straight-line speed. In spring practice, he has looked a little slimmer and a bit quicker. But, as anyone will tell you, practice is a lot different from games and it remains to be seen whether Henry can correct the issues that plagued him in 2014.