NU receivers ready for better

The highly competitive and talented Northwestern receiving corps is ready to shine in 2013.

When his position group gathers, like they do each practice, Tony Jones feels an overwhelming sense of competition.

"There's a lot of depth in that room," he said.

With talented wide receivers spreading the field, he realizes that every rep takes on additional significance. Sure, Jones ranked second on Northwestern with 29 catches in 2012. But now, the outsiders from last year are beginning their gradual climb.

Pat Fitzgerald labeled Mike Jensen the informal "Spring MVP." On the perimeter, Cameron Dickerson looks as sure handed as any. All of this simply pushes Tony Jones to be that much better.

"That's the beautiful thing about the spring," he said. "Guys that didn't get as many reps in the fall get an opportunity to show what they've learned."

Beautiful, really, was the touchdown grab from Jones to cap spring drills on Saturday. Beautiful was the impressive patience with which this entire unit approached each game in 2012.

In this strongly run-oriented offense – which threw the ball on about 38 percent of plays last season – there might not be enough targets for the talented unit. But Jones and the crew value each opportunity.

"Embrace the moment," he said. "As soon as one of our numbers gets called, we've got to make the play."

After suffering an injury that caused him to redshirt for the 2011 season, the Flint, Mich. native recovered with a flourish. He led the team with four touchdowns, including a go-ahead score against Nebraska.

This year, however, he feels the passing game is destined for even greater heights. The sudden two-quarterback rotation of Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian had some initial consequences.

"Last year, it caught everyone off guard," he said. "We weren't expecting it to flip-flop so often."

Of course, Siemian and Colter have distinctly different styles. Siemian seems like your typical drop-back passer; the dynamic and free-roaming Colter runs the option and often checks down to possession receivers.

As the quarterbacks run through practice drills, though, one thing seems obvious: They're rubbing off on each other. It began when Siemian rushed for the surprise touchdown against Mississippi State.

Then, after some fairly woeful early practices this spring, it appeared as though something changed with Kain Colter. Was it mechanics? Was it a mirage brought about by spring ball, which traditionally favors offenses? Jones, after reflecting, decided it was authentic.

"There's been a huge improvement from [Colter]," he said. "Just the throws he's been making, I'm in awe. I'm very excited for him."

And if Colter showcases this stronger arm, fans should be excited for this group of receivers. The passing game stalled on several occasions last year, and during the losses in particular.

Against Penn State – the first of three – Siemian labored through a memorably difficult 15-for-35 outing. The Cats were one, or maybe two, passes away from icing the Nebraska game.

With the passing attack running more smoothly, and with the loaded depth chart at wide receiver, NU might have discovered the first step towards Indianapolis and Pasadena — which Jones mentioned as part of the team goals.

After the final spring practice, Pat Fitzgerald told the media his greatest takeaway: "I think we learned a great lesson in ‘team' a season ago. That carried over to this year."

The receiving corps understands the concept of "team." And now, they're more than willing to key some wins.

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