Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald addressed the media Tuesday after his team's fourth official practice of the spring. He discussed position battles, position changes, and more. Here's what he had to say:
-- Fitzgerald said Dan Vitale and Dean Lowry's combine performances made him proud but didn't surprise him. "As far as football Olympics go, those two guys are on the podium. They've been that way their whole career."
-- When asked about replacing Vitale, Fitzgerald said he was asked the same question about replacing Drake Dunsmore, who was selected by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 7th round of the 2012 NFL Draft. He mentioned Garrett Dickerson and was excited about Jayme Taylor's return from injury, but made it clear that neither will be expected to do exactly what Vitale did. "Garrett will play to his strengths," he said. "How we do things will be based on each specific player's skill set." James Prather is the third superback right now.
-- Fitzgerald didn't seem too concerned about replacing safety Traveon Henry and cornerback Nick vanHoose. He called the cornerbacks "one of our deepest groups," and said he wouldn't have felt comfortable moving Marcus McShephard to wide receiver if he didn't feel good about the depth. He did say it's never easy to replace seniors, but said he feels the new crop has equal talent.
--Parrker Westphal, the top-ranked recruit in the Class of 2012, has made the move from cornerback to safety. Fitzgerald: "Just trying to help him. He's had such a hard road with all the injury issues, so just getting him any taste of success will be fun." After enrolling early, Westphal had surgery and redshirted his freshman year. He played only sparingly last season.
-- Westphal briefly addressed his move to safety: "It's been really fun. I get to be way more physical and aggressive. I like it. Knowing that I have three years ahead of me is just a blessing because I've finally got everything out of the way. I feel great."
-- Fitzgerald said the wide receiver converts will be important to the unit's success, though Steven Reese will miss spring ball with an injury. He said McShepard is doing well so far, and is "really, really working hard." Fitzgerald acknowledged that the receiver unit last year was "so inconsistent," and put improving it at a priority.
-- No player has solidified a starting position on the interior of the offensive line, but Fitzgerald said Connor Mahoney is the closest to doing so, but mostly because he is only practicing at guard. He said that both Ian Park and Brad North will be practicing at both guard and center.
-- Fitzgerald said the competition to replace Christian Salem as the holder is still wide open. If Northwestern had to kick a game-winning field goal tomorrow, Fitzgerald said it would be punter Hunter Niswander as the holder. Regardless, Fitzgerald joked, "we will definitely have a more humble holder who will not be interested in doing his own TV show."
As for the day's actual practice, junior safety Kyle Queiro tweeted this right after practice, before the post-practice media availability session even began:
Probably the defenses worst practice in my time here .— Kyle Queiro (@Kyles_Style) March 1, 2016