Notes: Teaching moments

Northwestern returned to the practice field on Thursday morning for its second spring workout. PurpleWildcats offers detailed notes from inside the Nicolet Center.

-- The Wildcats got back to work on Thursday for their second spring practice. The team held drills for a little less than two hours inside the Nicolet Center.

--After practice on Wednesday, Pat Fitzgerald said he wanted to see his Northwestern players fail—a lot—in the spring. He wasn't joking. There was a lot of failing again on Thursday, as the Wildcats get back to the basics. After practice, Fitzgerald said: "That's the best part of spring," he said. "You can take the time to teach them."

-- Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian will continue to split reps with the first-team offense, but backup Zack Oliver will also get his chance. The spring offers the important opportunity for everyone to get comfortable in the offense. "That's what spring ball is all about," Colter said.

-- Early into the practice, the players broke into position groups, as they often do. Each unit ran through its basic drills, namely footwork exercises. On defense, each group worked on ball-pursuit drills. Northwestern coaches feel they've really improved team speed in recent recruiting classes, and it does appear that is the case.

-- Running through a simple handoff drill, redshirt freshman Malin Jones lost his footing on the turf and appeared to have injured his ankle. After walking it off, he returned to the huddle on the next play and broke a big run. The former Joliet Catholic (Ill.) standout has seen a greater presence in the offense. However, Stephen Buckley also has, too. While it's far too early for evaluating the rotation, it appears the two could be heavily involved with the offense.

-- During the spring of 2011, Brandon Vitabile worked in at guard, without a true role. When the first summer practice came along, he was worked into the starting center position. Now, he is the mainstay of the offensive line, and is working to teach the younger linemen. "It's very important to understand the schemes," he said. "That's what I try to tell the guys, is once you know what everyone has to do, you understand your job better."

-- At the end of practice, I asked Pat Fitzgerald what the program hopes to find in spring practice. He responded with a series of questions the staff uses to evaluate its players: "Who are you? What do you do well? How much confidence and trust do you have in yourself? What do we, as coach, see in you? What are your strengths? How can we then utilize your strengths? And then what are the areas you need to improve on?"

-- At the end of practice, Pat Fitzgerald, with his team huddled around, recollected how each of Northwestern's three losses—Penn State, Nebraska and Michigan—fell apart. The emphasis was on each momentum swing, and how those turned into the 5:03 minutes the Wildcats regret.

-- Northwestern returns to the practice field on March 5, after a weekend off. This will be my last practice report on the beat. Thank you to all who have subscribed and been so loyal during the past couple years.

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. He resides on Chicago's north side.
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