The Inside NU Evanston contingency traveled up to Kenosha to observe practice on Saturday. The team was in full pads and ran through drills as well as 7-on-7s and 11-on-11s. Here’s what we took away from a hot couple of hours in Wisconsin.
The Thorson update
We don’t have any new medical information to report, but we did watch No. 18 sling the ball around for a couple hours. Thorson is still limited and the team won’t divulge anything more about his status for Aug. 30.
Still, his passes were crisp and accurate and he looked comfortable in the pocket. We saw Thorson run the read option and even scramble a couple times. It’s hard to read too much into anything, but Thorson looked like, well, a quarterback.
Depth chart insights
Behind Jared McGee and J.R. Pace, Northwestern is thin at safety. Some competitive depth will need to emerge in case of an injury to McGee and Pace, and we saw plenty of guys taking reps at safety on Saturday. Notably, Brian Bullock and Bryce Jackson saw a lot of reps with the second-unit. Bullock appeared in two games at cornerback last year before getting injured. Steven Reese, who is listed on the roster as a wide receiver, was also taking snaps and running through drills at safety. He played defensive back in high school but hasn’t done so for Northwestern.
With McGee moving into a starting role, the nickel back slot will be up for grabs. Though there is a long way to go before Purdue, Roderick Campbell was getting the majority of the reps as the fifth defensive back along with the four presumptive starters. The junior was expected to contribute last season, but a training camp injury forced him to miss the entire season.
Jared Thomas took reps at center with the starting offensive line, and Blake Gallagher took reps at the WILL linebacker spot alongside Paddy Fisher and Nate Hall.
Fitz has said that he plans on rotating TJ Green, Aidan Smith, and Andrew Marty between the ones, twos and threes during camp. From what we saw Saturday, Green was getting most of the reps with the ones and twos, behind Clayton Thorson.
There are four new players listed on the camp roster. They are No. 36 Ryan Dominick, a defensive back, No, 82 Braeden Heald, a wide receiver, No. 87 Mason Suitt, a wide receiver, and No. 90 Jake Genyk, a punter. All four are freshmen. Heald had an especially good day, making a host of catches in both one-on-one and live action. Genyk is the son of new special teams coordinator Jeff Genyk.
Former running back Alex Bousky has now switched to kicking full time, and will compete for the backup job behind Kuhbander.
Diminutive freshman receiver J.J. Jefferson looked great, speeding past defenders en route to multiple touchdowns. The Houston native seems to have another gear, even in pads, compared to his opponents, and may see some playing time this season despite a loaded receiving corps thanks to the modified redshirt rule.
Jake Collins’ rugby-style punts looked solid in what was our first real look at the graduate transfer. He got consistently solid hang time while angling multiple kicks perfectly towards the sideline.
Hunter Johnson didn’t have much to do, as he doesn’t participate in live reps with the rest of the quarterbacks, but the few passes we saw looked solid. The highly-touted transfer has a long way to go before taking a snap in a regular season game for Northwestern, but his journey is definitively underway.
Nate Fox and Chris Bergin led the second team of linebackers, and each impressed. Bergen batted away a few passes, including one in the back of the end zone that was in the hands of the intended receiver. Fox, meanwhile, was a fixture in the backfield, racking up multiple TFLs.
Superback James Prather has an arm injury that may hold him out of the Purdue game. A few other expected contributors are banged up, while others took a natural day off. All are expected to be back in the fold shortly.
Thorson and Hall were both full participants in practice.