Five things learned in NU camp

We have reached the midway point between the start of preseason camp and the season-opener at Syracuse. Thus far, we have learned answers to many key questions about this year's Northwestern Wildcats team.

1.) Venric Mark is in line to start at running back

The move of Venric Mark to running back during Northwestern's bowl practices seemed like an experiment, or even just a trick for the Texas Bowl. So when he was still there during the spring, it was assumed to be because of the little depth at the position. Somebody had to play there, right?

Well through the first two weeks of camp, it has been Mark receiving the majority of snaps with the first-stringers, and he has excelled in the role, thus far. The biggest question mark for the new running back is whether he can run through the middle, but early indications in practice showcase he is more than able to break and avoid tackles.

At this point, Mark has secured carries for the season, and is in position to be the Wildcats' starter at running back.

2.) Secondary answering tough questions

Northwestern's 2011 season may have been a bit different had it not been for communication issues leading to missed assignments on defense, namely in the secondary. The team has taken numerous steps during the offseason to prevent future occurrences.

Forget the sideline cameras and audio tests of the defensive back's communication; the most important difference for the secondary will be having another year of experience in hand. Freshman All-American Ibraheim Campbell leads the upstart group, and has become a coach for young names like Nick VanHoose and Davion Fleming.

The Wildcats have not dealt with many missed assignments during camp, and can only hope such a trend continues going forward into the season.

3.) Receiving core is more than just Prater

Nobody looks the part of a wide receiver more than the 6-foot-5 Kyle Prater does. However, Prater has been sidelined for parts of preseason camp due to various injuries. While there's no denying the addition of Prater is an important one for Northwestern, the current group of receivers is doing just fine without him.

Senior wideout Demetrius Fields may be one of the most overlooked players in the conference; a talented and experienced member of the receiving core. Tony Jones has the abilities to impress, even after an injury-riddled 2011 season. Other names to follow are Christian Jones, Rashad Lawrence, Cameron Dickerson, and Pierre Youngblood-Ary.

With or without Prater, it is apparent that Northwestern's receiving core is one of the most talented and loaded units in the conference.

4.) Still waiting on the right of the line

It appears that Adam Cushing's offensive line is deep with young talent; however, it is of concern that no one has claimed ownership of the vacancies at right guard and right tackle.

The current clubhouse leaders are Matt Frazier at right guard and Jack Konopka at right tackle. That does not yet mean either has secured a starting spot. Paul Jorgensen and Chuck Porcelli continue to fight for the right tackle position while Neil Deiters is also wrestling to play right guard.

Whichever player is able to show a level of consistency at each position will boast claim to the starting job during week one in Syracuse. For now, it remains to be seen who wants it more.

5.) Not just a spring fling

During the spring, three names popped up on the radars of Wildcat fans; redshirt freshmen Deonte Gibson and Nick VanHoose, plus sophomore Chance Carter.

It has become apparent through the first two weeks of preseason camp that each of their spring practice performances were no joke, and that has caught the eyes of Northwestern coaches.

VanHoose is likely to win the starting job at cornerback while Carter could be in line to start at defensive tackle. To his side, Gibson may take the starting position at defensive end. He'll at least serve in a steady rotation. Each of these Wildcats are showing the spring wasn't just some fling.

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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