The first day of practice is March 7th, three weeks earlier than the last year's start of spring practice. Also, the first day of practice for the 2011 Wildcats comes just 65 days after Northwestern's loss to Texas Tech in the TicketCity Bowl.
The 2010 season ended in disappointment, with Northwestern losing six of their last eight games, and seeing their defense completely unravel in those games. With that in the past, the Wildcats will come together again for a new beginning—something which is very important.
"It means everything," said NU head coach Pat Fitzgerald. "It's the first time that this team has come together on the football field. We're only a few months from last taking the football field, but this is a whole new team."
And though it may seem like years until September 3rd, it's still football, and for Pat Fitzgerald, it's another season with another team. Needless to say, Fitzgerald is excited to begin his fifth season as head coach at Northwestern.
"I can't wait!" said Fitzgerald. "I love all aspect of my role, but most importantly, I get to impact people on the field, so I can't wait to get that going. More importantly for our team, we get to get back to football. I want to get back to playing."
The spring will likely be a start to the kind of hard-hitting, fast-paced practices that Coach Fitzgerald likes, but one player will be limited from the team drills. That player is All-Big Ten quarterback Dan Persa,
After suffering a season-ending injury on his game-winning touchdown pass against Iowa, Persa has been forced through a long rehabilitation process. The quarterback is widely-regarded as a "workout addict", which has been beneficial to a speedy rehab process.
While Persa is ahead of schedule for his rehab, the senior quarterback `will not be a full participant of full-speed team drills, but Pat Fitzgerald says Persa will definitely be involved.
"He'll be a part of everything," Fitzgerald said. "He'll have different roles on how he helps everybody on the field and on the offense. He'll be down on the field and doing his rehab. He has a lot on his plate."
Spring practice brings the beginning of the new season, and is the first chance to see the depth at each position. The Wildcats have 16 returning starters on each side of the ball, including nine returning starters on offense.
"There's competition at each position, and we're going to try to foster an environment of competition," said Fitzgerald. "I know these guys embrace that."
But Fitzgerald and his coaching staff know, the starters in the fall are often found in the spring. He's hoping that his players work to put themselves in that position.
"We want guys to put themselves in positions to become starters and just be the best that they possibly can be," Fitzgerald said.
And Fitzgerald agrees that the competition is what spring practice is all about. It's the start of a new season, and the first opportunity to build a new team.
"There are roles to be won, we've got to identify that first," said Fitzgerald. "Once we figure out who are top 22 are, then the next step is to come together as a team."
The Wildcats' 15 practices over the course of a six-week span will lead into a three and a half month offseason period, which is followed by summer practice—the official start of the season. For now, the chance for a new beginning is here, providing a new start and new hope for the season.
"Where we leave off with spring practice, time will tell," Fitzgerald said. "We want to have a solid foundation moving forward."
Doug Bartels (OG) Shoulder-Out
Hunter Bates (S) Leg-Out
Jared Carpenter (S) Back-Questionable
Jack DiNardo (DT) Shoulder-Out
Davion Fleming(DB) Hip-Out
Ben Johnson(LB) Ankle-Questionable
Bryce McNaul(LB) Shoulder-Probable
Dan Persa(QB) Leg-Out
Jacob Schmidt(RB) Ankle-Probable
PurpleWildcats.com will be at each practice, and will provide a practice report for each day. Below is the full schedule for Northwestern's spring practice. One other note--Northwestern Pro Day is on March 8th.
March 7th, 8:15-10:30
March 8th, 8:15-10:30
March 10th, 8:15-10:30
March 12th, 9:30-11:45
March 28th, 8:15-10:30
March 29th, 8:15-10:30
April 2nd, 9:30-11:45
April 4th, 8:15-10:30
April 7th, 8:15-10:30
April 9th, 9:30-11:45
April 12th, 8:15-10:30
April 14th, 8:15-10:30
April 16th, Spring Game, Noon