Open Practice: Keeping it Light

This Purple Wildcats Insider update breaks down some highlights from the Northwestern open spring practice.

Northwestern staged an open practice on Saturday morning at Ryan Field in lieu of its traditional "Spring Game." The lack of offensive line depth (due to injuries) forced coach Pat Fitzgerald to make the switch. He's not preoccupied with the overall spectacle, but has instead focused on keeping his team healthy in the offseason.

— Speaking of the offensive line, Brandon Vitabile emerged as the leader of this unit. Teammates Shane Mertz and Geoff Mogus lauded his natural leadership ability. Without any seniors on the O-line, Vitabile manages to act the part. And despite the current lack of depth, several players appear to be stepping up. Last season, many analysts were worried about how the line would recover without Ben Burkett and Al Netter. They did just fine, but with three new starters this season, there figures to be a steep learning curve.

— It was hardly the most exciting event, but still provided some insight. Venric Mark looks better than ever. After his All-American season, Mark has one more chance to dominate in Big Ten play. He showed burst and great energy throughout practice. As well, Stephen Buckley may have earned MVP honors, if there were such thing. Buckley caught several passes, including a beautiful touchdown grab from Zack Oliver. Buckley should play a major role in this offense.

Rashad Lawrence looked like one of the most impressive players in practices before spring break. He stands out as your ideal possession receiver. Today, though, Tony Jones stood out. The rising senior receiver had some strong outings in 2012 and looks to build on that. He excelled on throws to the outside when matched up with cornerback C.J. Bryant.

— The highlight of practice was when Traveon Henry laid a memorable hit in open space. I'll be honest: I forget the victim, but that's not the point. Henry could be the breakout star on defense alongside Ibraheim Campbell. Although Jimmy Hall is pushing the rising sophomore in practice, Henry should earn the starting role and excel.

— The practice was otherwise laid back. There was a competition held in which offensive linemen attempted to grab punts. Eric Olson looked surprisingly smooth. Overall, there was nothing flashy about the practice, but the team is oozing confidence and looking forward to another strong season.

— And as reported by Purple Wildcats, 3-star defensive tackle Ben Oxley from Avon Lake HS (Ohio) committed to NU after spring practice. Stay tuned to Purple Wildcats for more news when NU returns to the field on Tuesday morning.

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