clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Northwestern football’s second fall camp press conference notebook

Below are the major takeaways from David Braun’s, and three transfers’, time speaking with the media.

@NUFBFamily on Twitter.

On Wednesday, Northwestern fans and media members had the opportunity to hear from head coach David Braun for just the second time since the onset of the Wildcats’ fall camp, and the fourth time as head coach. While the team’s practice was initially slated to be open to the media, it was closed without explanation.

After Braun spoke to reporters, transfers QB Ben Bryant, WR A.J. Henning and DL Richie Hagarty also talked for the first time after changing to purple and white.

Here are four of the major points made by all four in the penultimate media availability of camp.

Saturday’s Scrimmage Will be Significant

Following his opening statement, Braun’s first question was immediately about the team’s starting quarterback. When asked if Bryant would be NU’s QB1 — as many presume — he indicated that the team is still in “open competition” only 17 days away from its opener at Rutgers.

Moreover, Braun shared that he would make a decision about the Wildcats’ starter subsequent to a scrimmage held on Saturday (which will not be open to the media). It is unclear whether or not that news will be promptly disseminated on social media by parties involved, or if we’ll find out at next Wednesday’s media sessions.

To little surprise, Braun placed Bryant and junior Brendan Sullivan in a similar echelon, saying that both are “doing a great job of competing.” For specific praises of each, Braun stressed Sullivan’s athleticism and mobility, while talking about Bryant’s timing with passes.

In terms of ascertaining the team’s starter, Braun underscored that the decision will be his, but that he will “lean heavily” on offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian. Likewise, as he was at Big Ten Media Days on July 26, Braun was emphatic about the role of a premier quarterback, with that player needing to inspire the entire sideline and find “a way to rally a football team.”

Beyond just gunslinger, several other positional hierarchies will likely start to become resolved after the team’s scrimmage. Other spots to watch include along the offensive and defensive lines — more on them in a bit — plus safety and punter.

Offensive, Defensive Lines Work in Progress

Northwestern’s trench units on both sides of the ball were dismal last year, and they have only lost considerable faces and talent this offseason.

Along the offensive line, the ‘Cats will no longer field three veteran starters in LT Peter Skoronski, OC Charlie Schmidt and RT/RG Ethan Wiederkehr, not to mention transfer guard Vince Picozzi, who combined to account for 3,267 snaps in 2022. The only returning starters for NU are Josh Priebe, who suffered a second straight season-ending leg injury, and junior Caleb Tiernan.

In light of uncertainty regarding who Northwestern will utilize to protect its quarterback and generate push in its run game, Braun alluded to the fact that the unit is not yet where he would like, but that he’s expecting gelling to occur throughout the season. In particular, Braun praised the depth and “trajectory” of the room.

Subsequent to losing 82.2% of its offensive line snaps from last year, questions loom about position changes for players like Priebe or interior linemen such as Jackson Carsello, Dom D’Antonio and Ben Wrather. Braun suggested that offensive line coach Kurt Anderson has been mixing and matching to generate the best possible lineup.

A similar theme can be determined from the Wildcats’ defensive line, which suffers the departure of anchor Adetomiwa Adebawore, plus veterans Devin O’Rourke and Ryan Johnson. In the spring, Braun didn’t hide the fact that the group needed to be bolstered, and it was by bringing in transfers Hagarty (Southern Illinois), Matt Lawson (Fresno State) and R.J. Pearson (Bethune-Cookman).

Roughly five months later, Braun said that the team’s DL group “is not where they need to be at today.” However, as with offensive line, the head coach was optimistic about depth and development — both over the course of the campaign and even fall camp, suggesting that the defensive line “can help us win a football game” in Piscataway, New Jersey.

Top Transfers Articulate Positive Experiences at NU

After venturing to Evanston this spring, Bryant (Cincinnati), Henning (Michigan) and Hagarty (Southern Illinois) spoke glowingly about their time at Northwestern thus far.

When discussing the ongoing quarterback battle, the sixth-year Bryant said that his peers have “welcomed him with open arms,” and deemed the room one of the smartest he’s seen.

“Since we’ve gotten here, it’s been nothing but positive,” Bryant said. Regarding whether the transfers have discussed hazing allegations with more long-standing players or coaches, Bryant suggested those conversations have not occurred, offering, “All we know is what we know.”

After playing at Miami (Ohio) and Southern Illinois, it was easy to glean just how excited Hagarty was to be playing at NU. The 2022 First Team All-MVFC selection emphasized that “everybody can play” at the Big Ten level, including third- and fourth-string players, and called it a “positive change-up.” As for his role on the team’s defense, Hagarty suggested that he’s “integrating as a leader role” due to his experience.

Henning won two Big Ten titles and made consecutive College Football Playoff appearances with the Wolverines, and is hoping to extrapolate his big-game experience with his new Wildcat teammates.

“Bringing that level of intensity in the meeting room; doing the little things right,” said Henning about what’s needed to appear in marquee contests, adding, “I know what it takes to get there.”

Fans have wondered how Henning — with only 25 career receptions and 15 total rushes — best projects in the Wildcats’ offense. The Illinois native was very receptive to whatever role Bajakian envisions for him, including in the slot, on the perimeter or in the backfield.

“Anything, I’m up for it,” Henning said. “I feel like I can affect the game in multiple ways.”

It’s possible that Northwestern’s starting quarterback and top two receivers will all be transfers. Despite all arriving from different destinations, Bryant noted how he’s been able to build a rapport with pass-catchers.

“It’s gotten better and better throughout camp,” the quarterback said, focusing specifically on constructive conversations after reps and connecting throughout the summer.

Wildcats Viewing 2023 Season No Differently Despite Scandals

Northwestern was victorious in just one game a season ago, its worst win total since 1989. The team has not prevailed on a game in American soil since October 2021 — ironically, against Rutgers, the opponent against which it will begin a new era. Compounding existing woes are the allegations of severe and coercive hazing that not only led to the firing of Pat Fitzgerald, but also have made many wary of the program’s culture.

Though NU is in an unprecedented place, both Braun and its players earnestly appear to be proceeding full steam ahead with the upcoming season.

Henning and Hagarty each shared that the team’s goal is to win the Big Ten Championship. Bryant added that the intention is for Northwestern to “flip the narrative” by performing well on the field.

In terms of team bonding activities, Braun mentioned that the program has been “very calculated” following its hazing education, yet that the goal is still to “find ways to allow this team to build, and become cohesive, and have fun.” Hagarty and Bryant shared that non-football-related competitions start each day in the team auditorium, from playing basketball to racing on Mario Kart.

When asked about his team’s possible reception from fans on both sides in SHI Stadium, Braun expressed uncertainty. However, the defensive coordinator-turned-interim head coach sent a strong message about fan support in Evanston, even in the midst of a fractured and divided base.

“I certainly hope that this community, our alumni, all those that are associated with Northwestern University, will come out and show full support for 103 young men that have worked their butts off,” Braun shared.