Saturday's open practice was, among other things, our first chance to see who is getting first team reps and who is getting second team reps during spring ball for Northwestern. It's important not to overreact to one (pretty vanilla) two-hour session, especially with a number of players sitting out for various reasons, but anyway, here are our observations:
- The quarterbacks, in general, were erratic. All three missed open receivers at one point or another, but also made nice throws here and there.
- Of the three, Clayton Thorson was probably the most impressive. His arm strength looked good, even when throwing on the run.
- Alviti made one horrible throw, a late check-down to the sideline, that stood out during 7-on-7s. It was picked off by Marcus McShepard, who would've taken it to the house in a real game. It's also striking how short he looks in the pocket. However, in the first play of the 11-on-11 'scrimmage,' Alviti broke off a big run, displaying his quickness.
- Pat Fitzgerald said Alviti is already more comfortable in the system this year than he was last year.
- Zach Oliver looked... pretty average. He also threw a pick in 7-on-7.
- Justin Jackson's injury was a meniscus injury that required arthroscopic surgery. He was moving around without crutches or a knee brace on the sidelines though, and said that, if necessary, he could get back out on the field next week. It sounds like he'll be fine.
- Jackson said the team has some packages where he and Auston Anderson are on the field at the same time, and that he even thinks they may try to get three running backs (Solomon Vault included) on the field together in some packages. Might that mean a return to more option packages?
- Anderson broke off a big run in 11-on-11 drills, making a defender miss at the line of scrimmage, and finally displaying the speed that Northwestern fans have been waiting to see. Fitz said Anderson would have played last year as a true freshman had he not been injured.
- Vault is still struggling with nagging muscle injuries, the same ones that hampered him last season. He said he should be 100 percent by August.
- Christian Jones is out for around four months after requiring another surgery on his same knee.
- Jones' isn't the only injury. Mile Shuler, Stephen Buckley and Mike McHugh are all out for the rest of spring practice with injuries as well, and Cameron Dickerson, although he should be back next week, wasn't in action Saturday. So the first-stringers were Pierre Youngblood-Ary, Andrew Scanlan and Austin Carr.
- The receivers, in general, look bad. That's in part to be expected because of all the injuries, but still...
- All three superbacks, Dan Vitale, Garrett Dickerson and Jayme Tayler, looked good, and were being used a lot.
- It's important to preface any discussion of offensive line competition with injury notes: Matt Frazier and Kenton Playko are both out for the spring, and Blake Hance just recently returned from injury.
- There was a fair amount of rotation on the first team offensive line. Three guys took almost all, if not all, of the first team snaps: Geoff Mogus at left tackle (although he has played guard in the past), Brad North at center, and Shane Mertz at right guard.
- At left guard, Connor Mahoney took turns with Adam DePietro, and at right tackle, Hance rotated in and out with Eric Olson.
- Tommy Doles (left tackle), Ian Park (center) and Sam Coverdale (right guard) took almost all of the second team reps.
- The interior of the defensive line has been ravaged by injuries. Sean McEvilly and Greg Kuhar are both sidelined, and it didn't look like C.J. Robbins participated today either.
- That left one first team defensive tackle spot to Max Chapman. The second was filled by either Deonte Gibson or Dean Lowry, both naturally defensive ends. Lowry played a decent amount inside last year, but it looks like NU is experimenting with Gibson inside as well.
- The starting defensive ends were Ifeadi Odenigbo and Lowry/Gibson. Xavier Washington ran exclusively with the second team. In 7-on-7s though, Odenigbo lined up as an outside linebacker and occasionally dropped into coverage. Odenigbo said that's not something we'll be seeing much of moving forward though.
- Lowry is a beast. You could probably make the case that he's Northwestern's best player.
- Jaylen Prater was the starter at middle linebacker, However, that's because Anthony Walker sat out most, if not all, of practice. Walker was suited up but he didn't participate in 7-on-7. Walker should be the starter. Brett Walsh also has a minor injury, and did not practice.
- With Drew Smith out for the spring, the two first team outside linebackers Saturday were Joseph Jones and redshirt freshman Nate Hall. Hall had one especially physical tackle in an early drill, and generally looked pretty good. Those two are likely competing for one starting spot, with Smith all but assured a starting role.
- Matt Harris and Nick VanHoose are both healthy, and are both locked in as the starting cornerbacks. McShepard and Keith Watkins are their backups.
- At safety, Godwin Igwebuike and Kyle Queiro were the starters during 11-on-11s. Traveon Henry just recently returned from injury though, and wasn't involved in full-contact drills. Henry was in there over Queiro during 7-on-7s though.
- Henry made a really nice interception, undercutting a sideline route. Our Josh Rosenblat noted that Henry looked significantly smaller or slimmer than he did last year.