Northwestern wrapped up its spring season with an open practice on a beautiful morning last Saturday at Ryan Field. A week prior, the team hit Hutcheson Field by the lake for a televised practice.
Although Pat Fitzgerald and the Wildcats had 15 practice sessions this spring, those were the only two that were open to media. Still, we were able to learn quite a bit about the 2017 team from those hours of observation, conversations with Fitz, and other things we’ve heard throughout the spring.
As a review, here are our notes and quotes from April 1 and April 8. What follows is our best guess at what the depth chart will look like come September, meaning we are incorporating players who haven’t even arrived on campus yet where necessary.
Obviously, things can change, especially with injuries, but given what we know right now, here’s how we think things will look:
|Position||1st string||2nd string||3rd string|
|Position||1st string||2nd string||3rd string|
|Quarterback||Clayton Thorson (Jr.)||Matt Alviti (Sr.)||T.J. Green (So.)|
|Running back||Justin Jackson (Sr.)||John Moten IV (So.)||Jeremy Larkin (R-Fr.)|
|X-receiver||Flynn Nagel (Jr.)||Macan Wilson (Sr.)||Jelani Roberts (Jr.)|
|Y-receiver||Solomon Vault (Sr.)||Jalen Brown (Jr.)||Riley Lees (R-Fr.)|
|Z-receiver||Bennett Skowronek (So.)||Charlie Fessler (So.)||Lloyd Yates (So.)|
|Superback||Garrett Dickerson (Sr.)||Cameron Green (So.)||James Prather (Jr.)|
|Left tackle||Blake Hance (Jr.)||Jesse Meyler (R-Fr.)||Adam Lemke-Bell (So.)|
|Left guard||J.B. Butler (Jr.)||Ben Oxley (Jr.)||Graham Bullmore (Sr.)|
|Center||Brad North (Sr.)||Jared Thomas (So.)||Sam Gerak (Fr.)|
|Right guard||Tommy Doles (Jr.)||Trey Klock (Jr.)||Nik Urban (R-Fr.)|
|Right tackle||Gunnar Vogel (R-Fr.)||Andrew Otterman (So.)||Jason Goosen (R-Fr.)|
|1st string||2nd string||3rd string|
|Defensive end||Joe Gaziano (So.)||Trent Goens (So.)||Mark Gooden (R-Fr.)|
|Defensive tackle||Tyler Lancaster (Sr.)||Alex Miller (So.)||Jake Saunders (R-Fr.)|
|Defensive tackle||Jordan Thompson (Jr.)||Fred Wyatt (Jr.)||Sam Miller (Fr.)|
|Defensive end||Xavier Washington (Sr.)||Tommy Carnifax (So.)||Earnest Brown IV (Fr.)|
|SAM linebacker||Nate Hall (Jr.)||Jango Glackin (R-Fr.)||Peter McIntyre (Fr.)|
|MIKE linebacker||Nathan Fox (So.)||Paddy Fisher (R-Fr.)||Blake Gallagher (Fr.)|
|WILL linebacker||Brett Walsh (Sr.)||Warren Long (Sr.)||Chee Anyanwu (Fr.)|
|Cornerback||Keith Watkins II (Jr.)||Marcus McShepard (Sr.)||Roderick Campbell (So.)|
|Safety||Godwin Igwebuike (Sr.)||Travis Whillock (R-Fr.)||Parrker Westphal (Sr.)|
|Safety||Kyle Queiro (Sr.)||Jared McGee (Jr.)||J.R. Pace (Fr.)|
|Cornerback||Montre Hartage (Jr.)||Alonzo Mayo (So.)||Brian Bullock (R-Fr.)|
|1st String||2nd String||3rd String|
|Kicker||Charlie Kuhbander (Fr.)||Mason Weissenhoffer (So.)||Drew Luckenbaugh (So.)|
|Punter||Hunter Niswander (Sr.)||Dan Kubiuk (Jr.)|
|Kick returner||Solomon Vault (Sr.)||Jelani Roberts (Jr.)||Auston Anderson (Jr.)|
|Punt returner||Flynn Nagel (Jr.)||Jelani Roberts (Jr.)||Marcus McShepard (Sr.)|
|Long snapper||Trevor Stroebel (Sr.)||Holder||Hunter Niswander (Sr.)|
- WR: We decided to keep Macan Wilson and grad transfer Jalen Brown out of our top three for now, but the position should be fairly fluid. There will be a lot of four wide receiver sets in which Wilson joins Nagel in the slot. Brown is the wildcard of the group because he’ll have the least experience with the playbook of any player at the position heading into the fall, but it appears likely that he’ll play his way into more snaps on the outside as the season progresses. For that reason, Bennett Skowronek — another bigger-bodied pass-catcher — starts on the outside. Riley Lees and Jelani Roberts are both lower down the receiver depth chart, but could still see the field a solid amount. Maybe this is the year Roberts breaks into a more heavily-utilized Tavon Austin-esque role on jet sweeps, handoffs and reverses.
- SB: Northwestern has eight superbacks listed on its roster right now. EIGHT. Garrett Dickerson is obviously the guy as a senior, but behind him it gets interesting. Cam Green seems to have the backup job at the moment and we’ve got James Prather there because of his experience, but don’t entirely count out redshirt freshman Eric Eshoo or early enrollee true freshman Trey Pugh.
- OL: The offensive line is another position group that will be impacted by the arrival of a graduate transfer — former Georgia Tech player Trey Klock. The only position that’s still up for grabs on the O-line is the right tackle spot, and Klock could certainly make a push for that job. But again, because Klock wasn’t at spring practice and will be competing with players who have more experience in the system, he begins on the second team (competitive depth!) in our chart. The players he’d be competing with at right tackle — Gunnar Vogel and Andrew Otterman — have both spent time with the first team this spring. In the two practices we’ve seen, Vogel has gotten more reps there, so he starts in our projection. This is one of the biggest position battles to watch going into the summer.
- LB: This is another tough one, mostly due to a lack of depth at the moment. Nate Hall has a starting spot locked up, but there are three guys competing for the other two spots. When last season ended and Anthony Walker Jr. declared for the NFL draft, we expected Brett Walsh to keep the starting WILL job he had for the final five games of the season and Nathan Fox to take over for Walker Jr. at the MIKE spot. However, redshirt freshman Paddy Fisher’s impressive spring has complicated those expectations. Fisher is more of a middle linebacker and could take that spot from Fox. Pat Fitzgerald has also said that he thinks Fox and Fisher can both be on the field at the same time, so Fisher could also take reps from Walsh. For now, Fox has the edge in the middle because he has more experience and has taken more of the spring reps there. Fisher is picking up steam, though, so even if he doesn’t start games, he should see a lot of action next season. Former running back Warren Long should see the field plenty, and without much depth, true freshmen will be in the mix right away.
- DL: While the starting defensive line seems to be pretty clear, the backups are a different story. Mike Hankwitz likes to rotate a lot of guys defensively, so Trent Goens, Tommy Carnifax and Alex Miller should all be in the mix. The unknowns lie in the talented trio of freshmen — Earnest Brown IV, Sam Miller and Trevor Kent. Because of the quality depth the Wildcats have at the position, it’s relatively likely that one of the three redshirts, and Kent appears to be the most probably candidate. Miller has more experience than the other two as an early enrollee who participated this spring, and Brown IV is the highest recruit Northwestern has gotten in the last three years. There’s also a chance that none of the three redshirt; it’s hard to tell at the moment. We’ve got Miller and Brown IV on the third team right now but the duo could easily push some of the backups to get on the field. Seeing what Fitz does with his freshmen d-linemen will be an interesting storyline to keep an eye on moving forward.
- DBs: Even with no Trae Williams for at least the first month of the season (and almost certainly more), this secondary is crazy deep.
- K: Neither Mason Weisenhoffer nor Drew Luckenbaugh has impressed too much during spring practice, although both have been solid. We’re going with our gut here and saying the freshman sensation Charlie Kuhbander wins the starting spot in fall camp.