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Northwestern football position preview: Superbacks

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How will the Wildcats replace Dan Vitale?

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The second part of our 2016 Summer Guide is position previews. For each position, we'll outline who's returning, who's gone and what the big question facing the unit is before finishing up with our projected depth chart for each position.

We continue the series with the superbacks, a position that's one of the least talked about but could be key this year.

Overview

Returning Starters: none

Key Losses: Dan Vitale

Other Returners: Garrett Dickerson (Jr.), Jayme Taylor (So.) Eric Lutzen (R-So.)

Incoming Freshmen: Eric Eshoo

Welcome to year 1 A.D. (After Dan). Dan Vitale contributed to Northwestern from basically the day he walked on campus to the day he walked off it to go pursue his NFL career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He appeared in 50 games over his four seasons in Evanston, and his versatility will be missed dearly. In his place, though, there are experienced options. Garrett Dickerson is an absolute beast of an athlete and an exceptional blocker. A former four-star recruit, he will need to expend his game, and he will finally be given the chance to show he can do so. Jayme Taylor comes back from an ankle injury that cost him his 2015 season, and he's a good pass-catcher with good size and speed. Eric Lutzen has never seen much action. It is worth noting that Dan's little brother Tommy saw some time at superback last year, and James Prather has also practiced there, though they are listed as a linebacker and defensive lineman, respectively.

Key Player

Garrett Dickerson

At 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds, Dickerson has the perfect size to be a really good superback. He's a good athlete and has shown at times to be a dominant blocker. But he only has 16 receptions in his two seasons in Evanston, and he's certainly let a few get away. There's reason to believe this is the season he puts it all together. He tripled his catches from his freshman season as a sophomore and saw a lot of action in two-superback sets, often blocking when Vitale ran routes. He has all the physical tools. He just has to put it all together and refine his game a bit to turn it into on-field contributions.

Big Question

Can Dickerson/Taylor replace Vitale's versatility

The best aspect of Vitale's game is that he could do anything you asked of him. Want him to block? Sure. Want him in the backfield? Gladly. Want him out wide? Just go ahead and put him there. And he filled all three roles exceptionally. You didn't need a blocking superback and a catching superback on any play, because you got both in one. That's worth an extra player on the field — an extra offensive lineman in short yardage or an extra wide receiver for passing plays. The question now is: Can either Dickerson or Taylor develop into that all-around weapon? If not, you might see a lot of two-superback packages with Dickerson blocking and Taylor running routes.

Depth Chart

1st string 2nd string 3rd string
Garrett Dickerson Jayme Taylor Eric Lutzen

This one's pretty straightforward. Dickerson will get the most playing time, especially because Northwestern is a run-first team, and that's where he excels. Taylor, too, will see considerable time, and he should be able to aid what was a pathetic passing attack last year. Unless either gets injured, don't expect to see Lutzen too much this year.