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Northwestern spring preview with Pat Fitzgerald

We had lunch with Fitzgerald to discuss the state of Northwestern football entering spring ball.

NCAA Football: Holiday Bowl-Northwestern vs Utah Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

On the first day of spring practice, head coach Pat Fitzgerald sat down with the media to discuss injuries, departures, new arrivals and more. Here are some notes from his media availability, edited for brevity and clarity:

Injuries: The following players are out right now spring practice: Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman, Bennett Skowronek, Jace James, Trey Pugh, Charlie Kuhbander, Cameron Ruiz, Alex Miller, Paddy Fisher, Blake Gallagher and JR Pace.

The following players from that list are also out for all of spring practice: Trey Pugh, Paddy Fisher, Blake Gallagher, JR Pace and Charlie Kuhbander. Keep in mind, the spring period is limited to just 15 practices, only 8 of which are live-contact (and three of which may include greater than 50 percent live contact, like in a scrimmage).

  • Opening statement: “Exciting time for the program, we have a lot of momentum, recruiting is up, support for our fans is at an all time high. This time of year is about the foundations of our program.”
  • Position changes: Trent Goens is moving from defensive end to superback, and Rashawn Slater will reportedly move from right tackle to left tackle.
  • On the quarterbacks: Fitzgerald is handling the quarterbacks similarly to how he did last spring with Clayton Thorson out. All quarterbacks are splitting reps equally, and the reps will begin to shift when players separate themselves. So no, Hunter Johnson isn’t exclusively running with the ones.
  • On the Walter Athletics Center: “It’s unbelievable. One variable we didn’t quite grasp was the proximity to dorms and class. The guys are here all time. They never leave.”
  • On the practical benefits of the new facilities: “Camaraderie, enhancing more quality time away from the game, managing their Fortnite time. Just spending quality time not on the field or in the weight room.”
  • On his expectations for recruiting: “I don’t think my expectations have changed. You don’t just build a building and expect to get the best class you’ve ever had.”
  • On the quarterback rep distribution: “The rotation is very similar to what we’ve had in the past with quarterback competition, that’s kind of where we are right now.”
  • On Trent Goens’ move to superback: “It’s true, we’ve got a little bit of a depth issue right now [after the retirement of Cameron Green], we wanted to add a guy that from a football IQ standpoint is an A+. Can he become a two-way player? I don’t know. But we told him we have some depth issues what are your thoughts, and he said ‘I’ll do whatever I can do.’”
  • On Cameron Green: “He’s a great player and a great person, I’m super fired up for him.”
  • On new offensive line coach Kurt Anderson: “I think like every coach you have, they’re all different. We’ve known each other for a while and he told me he got let go [as O-line coach at Arkansas], can I come in and volunteer. So he was our defensive quality control coach last year, he gave great insight to the defense, some technology things that we changed and adjusted. The way that he treated our GAs and our student volunteers, the people that could do nothing for him, he was just incredibly giving to those people.”
  • On Anderson transition to being the offensive-line coach: “His familiarity with the guys really helps that learning curve quite a bit. With the O-line he’s had an opportunity to watch from afar, but when a new coach comes in everyone has a clean slate, that’s my expectation for all new coaches.”
  • On the significance of NFL combine week: “Every program wants to develop NFL players. Either you fit the height-weight-speed or you don’t. This next level isn’t about feelings, it’s about pure business. I think it’s great. Having three guys at the combine is great.”
  • On the difference between this offseason and previous ones: “I think for the guys it’s different. They saw the effort level that it takes to win consistently. We rarely beat ourselves around here and the guys figured that out very quickly. Obviously we wanted a better start, but once the guys figured that out we righted the ship, same thing in the Ohio State game, the Utah game. We finished one we didn’t the other. But you’ve gotta learn your lessons and move forward.”
  • On young players he feels can contribute (this is a long list): A.J. Hamption, Cameron Ruiz, Travis Whillock, Bryce Jackson, Eku Leota, Trevor Kent, Earnest Brown IV, Peter McIntyre, Grayson Mann, Khalid Jones, Jaylen Rivers, Devin O’Rourke, Sam Gerak, Nik Urban, Payne He’Bert, Sam Stovall, Berkeley Holman, JJ Jefferson, Trey Finison.”
  • On the wide receivers: “It’s gonna be tough to get on the field at receiver for us for the first time in awhile.”
  • On his goals for the spring: “It’s hard to have goals because a lot of it is not measurable, but as I look at it right now, at this time of the year, with the amount of guys coming off redshirt years, it’s learning how to be a pro. How do you master our playbooks, the classroom, the fundamentals? Our attitude and passion has to be up, our effort level. It’s important to reinforce communication. In the thumbs generations I think it’s hard for guys to communicate on the field.”
  • On what he learned from last year’s team: “What we do and how we do things works to get to a championship level, what it’s going to have to continually take to get there. Any time you have some semblance of success it’s about avoiding complacency and the things people do to fail. Last year’s team had as strong of a brotherhood as we’ve ever had.”
  • On the early-enrollees: “All three of them have been awesome. They’ve hit the ground running and done a great job. The older guys did a great job meshing them into the team and they’ve done well.”