Northwestern preparing for pads

Northwestern took to the Nicolet Football Center indoor field for its fourth preseason practice. It was one last workout before the Wildcats put on the pads on Friday. was on the sidelines and offers up notes and quotes from Evanston.

• The Wildcats took to the indoor turf for one final practice before putting on the pads. This offered an opportunity to work on the fundamentals and technique before letting it all fly on Friday.

• The practices without pads give the team plenty of chances to work on the basic fundamentals, much like the spring. Pat Fitzgerald is pleased with the carryover from April. He said: "We had a lot of retention from the spring, physically. ... This group, almost across the board, took really positive steps forward, fundamentally, over the summer."

• Part of working on the fundamentals includes working on minor, outside details. The receivers, for example, spent time working on footwork in run blocking. Other players spent time on special teams coverage and blocking. Before the full pads and tackling occur, it's important to have sound technique. Overall, Northwestern has that.

Kain Colter, tabbed Northwestern's '1A' quarterback, appears to be throwing short- and medium-range passes with some extra speed. He has always possessed a strong arm, but it appears he is more confident to use it now.

• One other note on Colter is how impressive he is in making opposing defenders miss tackles. The dual-threat quarterback is able to juke and spin off a tackler better than most football players in college football.

• Northwestern held a battle of offensive line vs. defensive line, going head-to-head. In the end, the defense prevailed, forcing the o-line to the ground for push-ups.

• Working in primarily with the first-team at linebacker were David Nwabuisi, Damien Proby, and Chi Chi Ariguzo. Fitzgerald said after practice that no roles are set, indicating each could play the middle linebacker, weakside, or strongside. Also, Collin Ellis and Andrew Smith are candidates to start, too; if not, then see time in a rotation. One other name to watch is Tim Vernon, who Fitzgerald said has made great strides.

• Keep an eye on sophomore defensive tackle Sean McEvilly, who was working in with the first-team defensive line at tackle, next to Chance Carter. McEvilly could see many reps this season. Also, Will Hampton and Brian Arnfelt will work in quite a bit, too.

• It's also worth noting that Carter has bulked up to 285 pounds, looking very much like a Big Ten defensive tackle.

Ifeadi Odenigbo spent most of the day working in at defensive end. When Fitzgerald was asked if the freshman is now a defensive lineman, Fitzgerald said: "He was today." The coaches are getting a good look at the skillful athlete before making a permanent move. If Odenigbo isn't ready to take on defensive end as a starter, I'd imagine he'll redshirt this season.

• During 7-on-7 drills, on a deep pass from Trevor Siemian, receiver Tony Jones, streaking down the middle of the field, dropped the ball on what would have been an easy touchdown. Asked about that particular play, Fitzgerald didn't dwell on it, adding: "I'm just happy to see him in a post route." Jones, of course, missed the entire 2011 season with a knee injury.

• It's also worth noting that Carter has bulked up to 285 pounds, looking very much like a Big Ten defensive tackle.

• In the secondary, Davion Fleming has worked primarily with the first-team defense, but Jimmy Hall could also be a candidate to play. Hall is a big, physical safety who can throw some hard hits. Both Fleming and Hall could be key assets in the secondary.

Nick VanHoose continues to work in at first-team cornerback, usually opposite of Demetrius Dugar. Asked VanHoose about the many missed assignments the secondary had last season, the redshirt freshman estimated there has been just one "M.A." through the first four practices. That's certainly a welcomed sign.

Kyle Prater certainly has an impressive ability to catch the ball, but my main concern is of his strength. Prater is still fresh on his legs, after battling injuries, and could struggle to fight off tackles. Fortunately, his speed appears to be where it should.

• The play of the day, once against, came from true freshman running back Stephen Buckley, who ended practice by rushing through the middle, then streaking down the sidelines for a touchdown. Buckley was mobbed my his teammates on the offensive side of the ball. He certainly does have impressive breakaway speed, demonstrating why Northwestern coaches scouted him as a running back.

• Northwestern returns to the practice field on Friday for its first practice in full pads. Coincidentally, Fitzgerald's oldest son, Jack, will take part in his first ever padded football practice tomorrow. As you could imagine, both Pat and Jack Fitzgerald had a big smile on their face as they looked ahead to Friday.

Chris Emma has covered recruiting, college athletics and professional baseball for FOX Sports Next since 2009. Emma covered the Nebraska Cornhuskers for Big Red Report, and currently covers the Northwestern Wildcats and Chicago Cubs. He currently resides on Chicago's north side.
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