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QB competition, offensive revolution, and more notes from the first day of spring practice

Pat Fitzgerald, Mike Bajakian, and a trio of signal-callers met with the media to begin the spring.

Iowa v Northwestern Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

The first official day of Northwestern football gave us some crucial pieces of information from the HC, the new OC, and the QBs on all the big changes we might see going into 2020. Here’s how the ‘Cats are attacking what is sure to be a crucial offseason after their worst year during Fitzgerald’s decade-and-a-half-long tenure:

Pat Fitzgerald

On the quarterback room in 2019: Those guys watched Clayton Thorson become the all-time winningest quarterback, they rode the bus, ate the steak and gave him his hat when he came off, but they didn’t make plays. It’s a lot easier to be on the sideline and say, “When I’m out there, you know what I’m going to do?” Well, they didn’t do it. So that’s what they’ve got to improve on. They’ve got to get the confidence up. They’ve got to make plays. We just need to be more decisive. We need to be able to cut it loose. And I think that’s a big area that I’ve seen a change is just be confident.

On what the team needs to do as a whole to improve: We have to take care of the ball better, take it away more, that’s been a hallmark of our successful teams. Penalty avoidance has got to go back to where it was before. Kick game, we got to make red zone kicks. And then just from a position standpoint, it’s just competition. Just because you’re a year older doesn’t mean you’re a year better, it’s who from a standpoint of competition has improved. Maybe coming off a Big Ten West championship guys were more confident in their solidified positions, but it’s just wide open.

Rashawn Slater will start, though.

On his former assistant coaches: [Initially referring to Randy Bates, current Pitt DC] The last thing you want to see is one of your successful coaches leave, but at the end of the day you want to see them continue to climb that ladder of what they want to do professionally. You see Kevin Johns is now coordinating [at Memphis] and doing a great job. It’s always tough to see guys leave, but you hope they had a great experience while they’ve been here. I know they’ve done everything they could to make our program be successful and make our guys be successful individually. Very thankful for all that Mick [McCall] did, his great wife Joanne and his girls are unbelievable, and I wish him nothing but the best of luck at ISU, I’m sure he’ll do a great job.

On reaching 100 wins at NU with one more victory: Should have done it last year.

On how he hasn’t grown from fatigued from 15 years at NU: That’s what’s so awesome about this role, that no two teams are the same. And I think that just keeps you young. There are some things that frustrate you a little bit, but the grass isn’t always greener somewhere else. I love coaching our guys here. I love the challenge of recruiting to a high academic school. I love the challenge of being unique in our conference. Stacy and I love raising our boys in our hometown. And we as a staff feel very fortunate to have the support of the university.

Early Enrollees: Josh Priebe, Ben Wrather, Carl Richardson, Te-Rah Edwards, Hunter Welcing, Jaiden Cameron, Jordan Butler (a record-high seven).

Mike Bajakian

On wanting to play up-tempo: I want to make sure we’re snapping [the ball] with 20 or more seconds on the play clock, and the closer to 30 that we can be the better, especially in a practice situation where frankly, we’re spotting the ball a lot quicker than we would to game type situation. So I’m shooting for between 20 and 30 seconds left on the play clock when we snap [during the spring].

On what we can expect the offense to be like: It’s going to be built around our personnel. So we need to get a sense for what our personnel is going to look like, who’s going to step up and make plays, who’s going to develop things like that? We’ve included some stuff from last year’s scheme. We’ve added a lot of new stuff. It’s an ever-changing process, and really, even at the end of spring ball compared to what our offense will look like at the end of training camp is probably going to look quite different

On his connection with the quarterbacks: I’ve often thought that the quarterback needs to know the intentions of the play caller. They go hand-in-hand, and the quarterback and coordinator need to be intertwined.

On the superback/tight end dilemma: We’re calling them tight ends now.

Hunter Johnson

On what Bajakian wants from the quarterbacks in meetings and film studies: He wants us to not be afraid to make mistakes in the meeting room on the field. Whatever it is, if you think you know the answer, yell it out, be confident. If you’re wrong, then he’s going to let us know, but he’d rather us go for and be wrong then to just go through it with one-foot-in one-foot-out.

On last year: I’m kind of just flushing last year and moving off everything about it. There’s obviously some things I’m going to take from it, but I can’t move forward if I’m looking back.

On the current quarterback competition: There’s only one guy that’s on the field, and it’s a good thing that we’re competing against each other. We’re making each other better. But at the same time, you can’t focus on what everybody else is doing. You got to focus on what you’re doing. Because as soon as you start to focus on what that guy’s doing, this guy’s doing, you start to lose focus of what you’re doing.

T.J. Green

On the open competition for the starting quarterback position: After the season we had last year, we know we have to stick together. We can’t really have that cutthroat attitude in the room when we want to win games. The best way to do that is to stick together as a group and help each other out and we know that that competition will just foster the best player. The foam rises to the top.

On why he decided to come back to Northwestern for his sixth year: The culture and the guys—that’s the main reason. I could have gone anywhere, but I really wanted to stay with this team, with these guys, with these coaches and with this culture.

Andrew Marty

On how it feels to have so many players returning on offense: We got guys that haven’t even reached their surface yet. Like Jace James, I’m telling you he has the ability to be a first round receiver. I mean the guy works his butt off, and his hands are like glue. He’s so smooth and out of his route. It’s cool and it’s exciting because last year didn’t go the way we wanted, but we finished sort of headed in the direction that we need to be.

On his goals for this season: I want to have a grasp of the offense. We’re getting thrown a ton of things at us right now, but feeling really confident at the end going into camp is what we’re really honing in on. I mean obviously my biggest goal is to be the starter week one. I also really want to be more of a verbal leader going into my fourth season, to be able to rally guys and kind of being the player that I think that I am.