Now that I've officially played the role of Debbie Downer, let's get to what will be showcased on Saturday—Northwestern's crop of young talent.
The injuries to returning starters such as Persa along with Kevin Watt, Ben Burkett, and a list of others, has given many unheralded reserve players the chance to showcase their talents in front of the coaching staff, and fight for some reps in the fall. Prior to the start of spring practice, Fitzgerald made it clear that every position is open. Through 14 practices, that competition has been apparent. A group of players have elevated themselves on the depth charts, and worked their way into a starting role.
Here are seven spring standouts to watch for on Saturday, and in the fall.
1. Tyris Jones (6-0, 220) JR- Known for his emotion and passion, the junior walk-on is working his way from being a special teams player to the Wildcats' go-to third down back. Throughout his career with the Wildcats, Jones has never carried the ball, and has been buried in Northwestern's deep backfield. This spring, he has likely worked himself into a key role as the team's power back.
Jones is a physical runner that is tough to tackle in the open field. With a shortage of options, and his stock on the rise, look for the walk-on to be a key player in the Wildcats' backfield.
2. Charles Brown (5-11, 180) SR- Tabbed as the mid-spring MVP by Pat Fitzgerald, senior wide receiver Charles Brown has worked himself into a option for the Wildcat passing game. In his three years, Brown has just 26 catches—16 of those coming in 2010—and zero touchdowns. That is likely to change in 2011, thanks to a productive spring which may give Brown a greater role in the offense.
The Wildcats return a slew of options at wide receiver including Jeremy Ebert, Demetrius Fields, Tony Jones, Venric Mark and others. A big spring could make Charles Brown a major option for Dan Persa this fall.
3. Paul Jorgensen (6'6, 280) R-FR)- In 2011, the Wildcats will return four of their five starters on the offensive line. The one open spot is at right guard, but that may not be the case for long. Redshirt freshman Paul Jorgensen has his sights set on being the starter at that position.
A strong spring has the DeWitt, MI. native in line for the starting spot at RG. Coaches and players alike have raved about Jorgensen's strong spring, which may have him in line for a starting job.
4. Tyler Scott (6-4, 255) SO- The starting defensive end positions are occupied by seniors Vince Browne and Kevin Watt, and that is not very likely to change. With Watt out due to injury, a group of young defensive ends have been given the chance to show off in front of the coaches, and one of those who has taken advantage of the opportunity is sophomore Tyler Scott.
In 2010, Scott played limited time in all 13 games, while finishing the season with 12 tackles. After a strong spring, his role may increase. Since arriving at Northwestern, Scott has transformed himself from a 230-lb linebacker to a 255-lb defensive end. While gaining more size, he has not lost any speed.
This fall, look for Tyler Scott to play a larger role, mixed with Vince Browne, Kevin Watt, and Quentin Williams.
5. David Nwabuisi (6-1, 240-lb) JR- With the departure of Nate Williams, the Wildcats' spot at middle linebacker was wide open as the spring started. That may no longer be the case. Junior linebacker David Nwabuisi is likely working his way in as the starter at "MIKE" linebacker.
As a sophomore, Nwabuisi had 26 tackles and an interception, while working in during passing situations. The junior-to-be brings great size and speed to the defense, but the thing that makes him stand out is his great leadership ability. A productive spring may lead David Nwabuisi to a starting spot at middle linebacker.
6. Jeravin Matthews (5-11, 175) SR- The hype is all true that Jeravin Matthews is the Wildcats' new starting cornerback. The departure of Justan Vaughn leaves an open spot at cornerback, and a strong spring has Matthews in the mix as the likely starter. Pat Fitzgerald has taken notice, saying, "If we're playing Saturday, Jeravin Matthews is our starting corner. He's won that job and he's earned it."
The senior-to-be has recorded 33 tackles in his 32 total games, but has yet to record an interception. Matthews' speed is what makes him stand out as a great cover corner. Throughout the spring, Matthews has given wide receivers fits during one-on-one drills. This fall, he'll likely be the one giving opposing wide receivers fits.
7. Ibraheim Campbell (5-11, 195) R-FR- Midway through the spring, Pat Fitzgerald admitted that one of his biggest regrets from last season was making freshman safety Ibraheim Campbell redshirt. Now, Campbell is ready to go for his first year of action, with an extra year under his belt.
Northwestern's two starting safety positions were occupied by Brian Peters and David Arnold, but with Campbell in the mix, the NU coaches have an extra option. Fitzgerald and the coaching staff have been very impressed with Campbell's progression, and part of that is thanks to the tutoring from Brian Peters, who has been there to guide Campbell. This fall, look for the redshirt freshman to step in as a major role player in the Wildcat secondary.