The second part of our 2017 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.
Next up, we have the superbacks. A position characterized by a strong starter and a lot of question marks.
Returning starters (career starts): Garrett Dickerson (12)
Key losses: None
Other returners: James Prather (Jr.), Eric Lutzen (Jr.), Heath Reineke (R-Jr.), Cameron Green (So.), Cody Link (R-Fr.), Eric Eshoo (R-Fr.)
Incoming Freshmen: Trey Pugh, Alex Oelsner
At this point in 2016, the Northwestern superback position was in a state of flux. The Wildcats had lost longtime stalwart Dan Vitale to the NFL, and the heir-apparent, Garrett Dickerson, had caught 16 career passes over two seasons. One year later, the position is once again in the hands of a steady veteran, except this time it’s actually Dickerson himself.
Dickerson stepped in right where Vitale left off, basically matching his senior year numbers with 34 receptions, 318 yards and 5 touchdowns. The only reason he didn’t seem as visible as Vitale always did is because Austin Carr became one of the best receivers in the nation, and the offense skyrocketed as a result. The superback position is still as important as ever to Clayton Thorson and the offense, but it’s not the only thing keeping the ball moving anymore.
Most Important Player
Any wariness that Dickerson wasn’t a real pass catching threat was soothed last year, as the superback caught a pass in all 13 of Northwestern’s games and went off in the Pinstripe Bowl, as he had 5 receptions for 46 yards and a long 21-yard touchdown down the sideline. Dickerson will catch the ball when you need him to, and hopefully he becomes even more of a potent red zone target in 2017.
More importantly, Dickerson is an incredible blocker. Dickerson set the edge so well and his physical ability makes him an incredibly tough matchup for linebackers and especially for defensive backs. Dickerson sprung Justin Jackson for more than one long run in 2016 and will look to do so again during his senior year. Northwestern always needs a good superback to keep the offense clean and efficient and it has the guy for the job in 2017.
What else does Northwestern have at Superback?
Garrett Dickerson will be seeing the majority of the snaps throughout the season, but it would be nice if he got a break once in a while. More importantly, Dickerson is a senior, meaning Northwestern has to figure out who the superback of the future is at some point in 2017. Northwestern currently has 9 superbacks on the roster, but most of the 8 other guys are either special teamers or converted linemen who only play in short yardage. They’re obviously still important, but not in a pass catching, every down sense.
There are a couple guys who appear to have a shot of replacing Dickerson, or at least playing some meaningful pass-catching minutes in 2017. First, there’s converted wide receiver Cameron Green. He caught four passes for 31 yards, which is actually around the same stats Dickerson had in his first season. He’s the only other superback to have caught a pass at Northwestern, so for the time being he’s the front runner. The other two guys who may see the field are early-enrollee Trey Pugh and redshirt freshman Eric Eshoo. Eshoo had some buzz as a pass catcher when he was recruited a couple years ago, so it will be interesting to see if he gets an snaps early on. Pugh may very well redshirt still, but since he enrolled early, he has a decent shot of catching a pass or two as well.
But who knows, maybe someone unexpected will jump up and surprise us. It’s certainly happened before.
Superback Depth Chart
If it wasn’t clear already, it’s Dickerson and a lot of unknowns.
Superback Depth Chart