The offseason was full of speculation on when Dan Persa would reach 100 percent health and if he would be back in time for the start of fall camp. The answer to both questions is yes. Persa will work with the Wildcats' first-team offense for the first time since his season-ending injury last November against Iowa.
There are high expectations on Persa—especially after the launching of the "PersaStrong" Heisman campaign. The Wildcats' high hopes for this season ride on the shoulders of their senior quarterback. Will he return to his 2010 form? We'll get the first look on Monday afternoon.
Let the competition begin
The start of fall camp brings the start of some position battles. On offense, there is only one spot for grabs, the starting spot at right guard. The post-spring depth chart suggests the battle will be between Doug Bartels and Neal Deiters. Don't look past sophomore Brian Smith—listed as the backup—or redshirt freshman Paul Jorgensen.
There will be plenty of competition on the other side of the ball. On the defensive line, Kevin Watt and Tyler Scott are set to fight for a starting spot at defensive end. In the middle, Brian Arnfelt and Niko Mafuli each are vying for the starting defensive tackle position next to Jack DiNardo. Also, Jeff Budzien and Steve Flaherty will battle to be the Wildcats' kicker this season and possibly going forward.
A fresh start
There was much talk about Northwestern's troubles on defense in 2010. When they take the field on Monday, their struggles from last season will be in the rear-view mirror. There are reasons for hope this season.
The unit returns seven starters from last season and plenty of experience overall. Most importantly, the return of Dan Persa provides stability on offense, meaning the defense will get a little bit longer of a break on the sidelines. The defense will get a fresh start with a new season.
What about Kain?
Pat Fitzgerald leaked the word at Big Ten Media Days: Kain Colter is Northwestern's number two quarterback. Colter took on the role of running quarterback in the end of the 2010 season. With Persa back at the starting spot, Colter is looking for work.
NU offensive coordinator Mick McCall likely has some ideas with how he can utilize Colter. That will be on display during the fall camp (though no secrets can be revealed till the Wildcats take the field against Boston College).
Off and running
Northwestern features a pass-heavy offense but will have a nice compliment to that group at running back. Mike Trumpy is back in the starting role, but there is plenty of depth behind him. Adonis Smith is likely to be the number two running back, while Jacob Schmidt and Tyris Jones
The other big question in the backfield is whether the Wildcats will produce a 1,000-yard rusher. They have not had one since Tyrell Sutton in 2006. Pat Fitzgerald has said he would like to create some semblance of balance with the offense. With that, Trumpy could see more carries and a better opportunity to reach the 1,000 yard plateau.
Let the kids play
While the Wildcats are, for the most part, a veteran-laden team, there are a number of freshman and sophomores vying for playing time this season. After a solid freshman campaign, sophomores Tony Jones and Rashad Lawrence will have to fight for some more reps this season.
On defense, Tyler Scott is likely to see consistent playing time—regardless of if he becomes the starter. Also, redshirt freshman Collin Ellis and sophomore Tim Riley are each coming off a strong spring and hope to earn some playing time this season. One other intriguing name to watch is redshirt freshman Ibraheim Campbell, who impressed during the spring. Campbell may find himself in a key role this season.
The fall also brings in a number of newcomers as the incoming freshmen enter the mix. Who will make an impact? All indications suggest there won't be many true freshmen seeing consistent playing time this season. However, the freshman class will get their first chance to prove themselves on Monday.