Spring Practice: What To Watch For

Spring football is here! The Northwestern Wildcats return to the practice field on Saturday morning for the first of 15 team workouts. PurpleWildcats.com gives you a position-by-position look at what to watch for with this group of Wildcats.

Spring is in the air (ignore the six inches of snow on the ground), and football is back! On Saturday, the Wildcats return to the field to begin the first of 15 spring practices.

Northwestern is a new team this season, and many interesting storylines surround the group. Here's what to watch for.

Quarterback

What to watch for: All eyes will be on Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian. The two quarterbacks saw playing time in lieu of Persa during the 2011 season, with each taking advantage of their opportunity. Now that Persa has moved on, the starting job remains wide open. The spring is the first time for Colter and Siemian to begin battling for the position.

Keep an eye on: Sophomore quarterback Zack Oliver was very impressive during the Wildcats' bowl preparations, and could contend for the starting job. He appeared to gain confidence in his arm and adjust to the speed of the college game.

Key Losses: Dan Persa

Running Backs

What to watch for: With Mike Trumpy sidelined for the spring, sophomore running back Treyvon Green will likely see the majority of reps in practice. Green emerged as a strong runner during his freshman campaign. Of Northwestern's current group of healthy running backs, only Tyris Jones has seen carries. The spring will give Jordan Perkins a chance to showcase his abilities.

Keep an eye on: The afore mentioned Jordan Perkins and Tyris Jones each have a chance to work with the first-team offense, and could see many carries in 2012. Also, keep an eye on "tough guy" Tim Hanrahan, who Pat Fitzgerald is a fan of. He could work his way into the running back rotation.

Key Losses: Jacob Schmidt, Adonis Smith (Transfer)

Wide Receiver What to watch for: The biggest question of the spring involves a player who may not even appear at practice. That is ex-USC receiver Kyle Prater. The former five-star hopes to join his teammates for the spring, but his status remains uncertain as a waiver is filed to the NCAA. With the loss of key role players Jeremy Ebert and Charles Brown, the NU receviers will be fighting for playing time this season.

Keep an eye on: Watch for Tony Jones, who was sidelined for the 2011 season with a leg injury. He returned to full health during Northwestern's bowl practices, and is looking to make an impact this season. Jones has an extra year of eligbility after missing his entire sophomore season. He could step into a starting role in 2012.

Key Losses: Jeremy Ebert, Charles Brown

Superback

What to watch for: Drake Dunsmore has departed, and Northwestern's superback job is open. The spring brings the start of competition for the starting role. Jack Konopka and John Plasencia could fight for the job.

Keep an eye on: Former linebacker Tim Riley moved to superback during December, and recorded a touchdown catch during the bowl game in Houston. Riley showed he is capable of being a key player in the offense.

Key Losses: Drake Dunsmore

Offensive Line

What to watch for: Last season, all the talk was of Northwestern's 137 combined starts on the offensive line. This year may be the beginning of a youth movement. NU's young crop of linemen have made vast improvements in the weight room, and look to take over a starting role.

Keep an eye on: Sophomore-to-be Geoff Mogus spent the offseason working with senior guard Brian Mulroe, and has tacked on size. Mogus appears ready to fight for the vacancy at right guard. It will be interesting to watch how his development shows on the field.

Key Losses: Al Netter, Ben Burkett

Defensive Line

What to watch for: During his first full season as a starter, Tyler Scott became an impact player on the defensive line. Known for his work ethic, Scott took over the starting defensive end job, and caused problems for opposing quarterbacks. Also, it will be interesting to watch the development of Chance Carter and Will Hampton, who each saw added playing time last season.

Keep an eye on: Standing at nearly 300 pounds and wearing No. 1, Bo Cisek is easy to notice on the field. With the departures of Jack DiNardo and Niko Mafuli, Cisek may be counted on to fill in the middle of the defensive line.

Key Losses: Vince Browne, Jack DiNardo, Niko Mafuli

Linebacker

What to watch for: Linebacker may be Northwestern's deepest position entering the spring, so the battle for playing time will be worth watching. Young linebackers Collin Ellis, Chi Chi Ariguzo, and Damien Proby each made an impact last season, while David Nwabuisi established himself as the starting middle linebacker. The competition will only grow when Ifeadi Odenigbo arrives on campus in August.

Keep an eye on: Andrew Smith is a name to watch for. The sophomore-to-be has really impressed Northwestern's coaches, and could mix into the rotation for playing time this season. Smith surely has a bright future ahead of him, and that could start this season.

Key Losses: Ben Johnson, Bryce McNaul

Cornerback

What to watch for: Northwestern is without its two starting cornerbacks from 2011, so this position is wide open. Demetrius Dugar and Daniel Jones each saw significant playing time last season, but C.J. Bryant and Nick VanHoose are up-and-comers who could fight for playing time.

Keep an eye on: Nick VanHoose served as a scout team player last season, but could be working in with the first-team defense this year. The second-year Wildcat has standout speed and has impressed the coaching staff. He is a candidate to start this year.

Key Losses: Jordan Mabin, Jeravin Matthews

Safety

What to watch for: Ibraheim Campbell is locked into one safety position, while the other spot remains wide open. Jared Carpenter and Hunter Bates will need to impress the coaches during the spring before Northwestern's four incoming freshmen safeties come to campus.

Keep an eye on: Jimmy Hall was moved from wide receiver to safety prior to the start of the 2011 season, and has the chance to receive reps during the spring. He is an intriguing player to watch.

Specialists

What to watch for: Kicker Jeff Budzien hit just six field goals during his first season as a starter, and lacked the consistency his coaches were looking for. Starting this spring, Budzien needs to improve his game, and with that, build confidence.

Keep an eye on: Venric Mark has all the abilities to become an elite returner, but has yet to put it all together. The spring is a perfect time for Mark to make improvements.

Scout.com Midwest Field Reporter Beth Long will provide coverage of Saturday's practice in Evanston. Go to PurpleWildcats.com for a detailed practice report and post-practice video interviews each day.

Chris Emma has covered recruiting, college football, college basketball and college baseball for Fox Sports & Scout.com since 2009. He served as a writer for Big Red Report, covering Nebraska athletics, and is now the Publisher of PurpleWildcats.com, covering the Northwestern Wildcats.
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