EVANSTON — Northwestern football concluded spring practice Saturday morning with a two hour "spring game," which was really just a glorified practice in front of a somewhat sizable crowd inside Trienens Hall, the team's indoor practice facility.
Here are the top takeaways from practice:
The following players either did not practice Saturday, or were limited on not playing 11-on-11: Matt Alviti, Warren Long, Corey Acker, Flynn Nagel, Steven Reese, Macan Wilson, Jayme Taylor, Garrett Dickerson, James Prather, Ben Oxley, Eric Olson, Ian Park, Adam Lemke-Bell, Ifeadi Odenigbo, C.J. Robbins, Jaylen Prater, Simba Short, Tom Hruby, Jake Murray.
The first team offense was: Clayton Thorson, Justin Jackson, Austin Carr, Solomon Vault, Marcus McShepard, Andrew Scanlan/Charlie Fessler, Tommy Doles, Shane Mertz, Brad North, Connor Mahoney and Blake Hance.
The first team defense was: Xavier Washington, Jordan Thompson, Tyler Lancaster, Joe Gaziano, Nate Hall, Anthony Walker, Joe Jones, Matt Harris, Godwin Igwebuike, Kyle Queiro and Keith Watkins.
Practice highlights, observations
- It's no surprise, but Austin Carr looked the best of the wide receivers. He consistently got open over the middle of the field, no matter whom he was matched up with.
- For the second straight Saturday, senior wideout Andrew Scanlan impressed. He had one bad drop on a comeback route, but beat Hartage on a deep ball, and generally got good separation.
- Fitzgerald said after practice that the biggest thing that has changed this spring for Clayton Thorson is confidence, and that was evident. He seems to have a bit more zip on his balls, and while he made a few poor decisions, his accuracy was alright. He also lofted several nice deep balls, and made some good my-guy-or-nobody throws in the red zone.
On Thorson, Fitzgerald said: "You guys can probably see talking to him. A year ago, he was like, ‘shucks, golly gee, I hope so.' To now it's, ‘absolutely, lets go, here's the things we need to do.' You can tell, even though he's a redshirt freshman, he's a wily veteran going through 13 battles of highs and lows, and good play and bad play, and wins and losses. It's exciting, but he knows he's got a lot of things to improve in his game and I know they're working on it."
- The quarterbacks participated in an accuracy drill that involved throwing balls into a net with a hole in it. Thorson didn't miss a single one.
- Parrker Westphal struggled throughout the two hours. For someone who was billed as a big, physical corner who could play in press coverage, he looked really uncomfortable dealing with blocks in drills. In pass coverage, he was routinely beat. He was asked to match up against Auston Anderson a couple of times, and Anderson often blew by him. Even with Jake Murray out, Westphal was merely splitting second-team reps with Tommy Odell.
- John Moten is going to be good. In fact, he already is good, and looks to be ahead of Auston Anderson for the third running back role.
- Sophomore defensive tackle Fred Wyatt got some good penetration against the run.
- Hunter Niswander has won the holder job, and will be the Christian Salem replacement. Questions remain as to who will take over Salem's talk show, which Fitzgerald jokingly called "terrible."
- Practice got a little chippy at times. Notable scuffles were between Charlie Fessler and Keith Watkins, and Andrew Scanlan and Montre Hartage.
On the trash-talking and post-play activity, Pat Fitzgerald said: "I'm okay with competition, I just think you have to play within the rules. You know, at this point, you've gone 15 straight practices, seven weeks of football, 15 practices you've been going against the same guy, and you've been holding me and I'm tired of it. You've been grabbing me and I'm tired of it.
"My only statement is that we're going to play by the rules of the game, not only in the game but in practice, because if you make bad choices in practice, you're going to make it in a game. So occasionally some guys got to walk around and hold hands and that's just a reinforcement, like, 'hey come on, look at how childish this is walking around.'
"It's a selfish decision, play snap through the echo of the whistle, and the play's over and let's move on. If you can't do that, then I'm not going to play you. So I'm alright with competitive nature all the way to the Nth degree of that echo of the whistle, but after that I'm not going to tolerate it or accept it because we're not going to do that in the game, and if they do, I'm not going to play them. I think toughness is played snap through the whistle, not after the play."
- At the end of running back pass protection drills, the linebackers and running backs flipped roles. The highlight was Auston Anderson rushing against Cam Queiro. Queiro put Anderson on his back, and Anderson then jokingly stayed on the ground, motionless. Justin Jackson came over and pretended to administer CPR on Anderson.
- The speed option actually worked a few times!
- Walk-on QB TJ Green got loose and juked around linebacker Cam Quiero, who was promptly surrounded by just about the whole offense who talked a good deal of smack.
- Included in an otherwise very good musical playlist at practice were back to back Basshunter songs. #SwedensBigTenTeam.
- Walk-on running back Chad Hanaoka is a baller. #FreeChad2016
- There were several notable practice visitors, including class-of-2016 recruits Jango Glackin, Ben Skowronek, Gunnar Vogel and more; recent alumni Trevor Siemian, Venric Mark, Dean Lowry, Deonte Gibson, Christian Jones, Drew Smith, and more; and former NFL quarterback Trent Green, father of T.J. Green.