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Seven kickers, CTE, offensive tackle improvement, and more notes from Big Ten Media Days

There were lots of platitudes, but also some good info.

NCAA Football: Northwestern at Wisconsin Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Pat Fitzgerald

  • Northwestern will be starting official practice later than most schools. The NCAA granted a waiver when it replaced two-a-days to allow schools to come in a week early, but Northwestern is opting to arrive just a day or two early.
  • Fitzgerald said there would be seven kickers competing for the job during camp. The list for the new reality show, Can I Kick it?: Wildcat Edition just keeps expanding.
  • Fitz specifically called out the offensive tackles for being relatively bad last season. Blake Hance, in particular, needs to re-win his starting left tackle position after having an inconsistent year last season. He hasn’t had the chance to work with graduate transfer Trey Klock, but he’s excited to see what he can produce.
  • Fitzgerald said summer practice will be held on the lakefront at Hutcheson Field and thanked the people who made the summer practice facility possible.
  • Fitz gave a huge answer when asked about the New York Times’ CTE study:

    “Yeah well I think about player’s safety all the time and enforcing that in everything that you do. From the way that you structure offseason workouts to the way that you practice, and I think the game has really evolved. I’ll go back to when I was a young kid playing, you know all we did was bang into each other over and over and over again. Even when we got to college, it was just the way the game was taught and the way the game was played.

    I’ve been very involved with our national organization and USA football and working with the heads up initiative to really work hard to educate grade school and youth coaches even up the way to the high school level about the proper techniques of tackling, of blocking and how to take on hits. I don’t think we’ve seen a return on that investment yet because it’s still kind of in its infant stages. You know it’s heartbreaking to see any person with any issues, mental or physical, that come out of any experience let alone the game I coach and the game that’s given me so much, and do I think we’re moving to a better destination as a game? I do, I definitely do. I kind of put that action where my mouth is.

    I mean my three boys who are 8, 10 and 12 all play tackle football and my wife is the president of the North Shore Griffins and all those coaches are Heads Up certified. They’re focused heavily on teaching the proper techniques and fundamentals. So am I concerned about our game? Absolutely because it’s part of safety in a contact sport. It’s as if my kids were playing hockey, or basketball, and we ride bikes and there’s concussions when you ride your bike. It’s definitely something that we need to continue to look at across youth sports.”
  • A lunch from 10 years ago between Fitzgerald and new Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck was a topic of discussion for both men. Fleck, while working at Northern Illinois, asked to have lunch with Fitzgerald in Evanston. Fleck remembers Fitz telling him: “You don't have to be a coordinator to be a head coach. Can you lead men? Can you make a difference? That's what coaches do.”
  • Fitzgerald was insistent on Friday nights being for high school, but open to playing on Thursday in the early part of the season.
  • Fitz gave a host of names NU could call upon to fill-in for Solomon Vault. Jesse Brown, Jelani Roberts, Jeremy Larkin were all mentioned, but he’s still undecided.
  • On whether he would play true freshmen: “I want to play them all! 99% of them redshirt themselves...you know, it’s a huge transition.”
  • “I was surprised Garrett Dickerson wasn’t listed for the Mackey Award,” Fitzgerald said. The Mackey Award is the award for the best tight end in the nation.
  • Pat Ryan, one of the primary donors to the football team (and the school at large), has apparently only addressed the football team once. Godwin Igwebuike said he’d never met Mr. Ryan. Fitz emphasized that Ryan wanted to remain out of the spotlight.

Players

  • When asked if he thought he was the best running back in the Big Ten, Jackson declined to give a solid answer and complimented his colleagues like Saquon Barkley and Curtis Samuel. Excellent work by the famous Northwestern Athletics School of giving non-answers.
  • “I think Garrett Dickerson is the best blocking tight end in college football.”
  • In regards to the NFL, Jackson never even asked NFL scouts for an appraisement of his draft stock and hadn’t even thought about the question until he was asked by the media after the Pinstripe Bowl.
  • Jackson repeatedly downplayed breaking Northwestern’s all-time rushing record. He also downplayed concerns over the NYT’s CTE study, saying that he had “never,” worried about it and just wanted to keep playing the game.
  • Jackson, entering his senior year, said he’d miss hanging around “the guys,” in the football team the most when he leaves.
  • Oregon graduate transfer Jalen Brown (WR) has been working with the team in the offseason and Jackson was very excited to see what he could produce on the field.
  • Godwin Igwebuike was very impressed by Montre Hartage last season and is very excited about the return of Keith Watkins. He highlighted Jared McGee as another underrated contributor in the secondary. Igwebuike was also not very close to leaving for the NFL, although he did ask for a scout’s evaluation.
  • Archie Manning called Clayton Thorson out of the blue to invite him to the Manning Passing Camp.