Purple Wildcats Mailbag

Nick Medline offers his thoughts on Northwestern basketball and football in the first Purple Wildcats Mailbag.

Which offensive player do you believe will be a difference making, breakout player for the Wildcats next season?
— Jordan Bernfield, WGN Host/Reporter

My pick (for the 2013 Dan Vitale Trophy) is Cameron Dickerson.

I've pretty much tied myself to this pick from the middle of spring practice, when anyone could witness his improvement on the outside.

It's kind of depressing: He's not even the most important Dickerson on Northwestern message boards right now. His brother, four-star defensive end Garrett Dickerson, has earned even more attention. Let's give Cameron some love.

He had that one memorable touchdown catch against Michigan—a game full of the unexpected. (For reference, it included a Jared Carpenter forced fumble–that was awesome–and the gasp-worthy Gardner-to-Roundtree heave.) Dickerson had 20 total receiving yards in that game, good for what stands as his career-high, but the difference in ability between the top wideouts on this team is hardly significant.

In response to this question, some would guess Mike Jensen. I like his play, but it's hard to tell.

Here's my extended prediction for the NU offense, beginning with: "I think they'll be better in the passing game due to several minor improvements."

1) Siemian will be more mobile. He's shown that already.
2) Siemian will get outside of the pocket more often because of this newfound mobility. He'll be more skilled at throwing to the sidelines—especially on the run.
3) Siemian will identify one of his clear weaknesses (which was very obvious against Minnesota) and complete sideline passes with more frequency.
4) Colter will simply be a better passer. He looked significantly stronger in the final spring practices. We know he can scramble and excel in the read option; no one doubts his ability there. However, even by keeping the defense honest, he'd be a much-improved quarterback.
5) The biggest net-winning receiver from these developments: Probably Cameron Dickerson.
6) This is where Mick McCall earns his salary. (Sorry, I'm a bigger McCall fan than you are.)

So, if that makes any sense…

I was curious about our offensive line. We lost some leadership in Patrick Ward and Brian Mulroe, but who has been stepping up this spring to take their places? I think everyone can agree we need strong line play to help Venric…

Do you see areas of concern, or are we looking pretty good at this point?
— Aaron Frank

Adam Cushing is long overdue for some recognition.

One recent example of how awesome he is, in case this slid by: Adam Cushing successfully recruited three-star offensive tackle Blake Hance, even when his unit was pretty much set for the future.

Not only did Hance love the Wildcats, he raced to commit. You see, at some point, Cushing went to evaluate another offensive lineman—or was at the very least preparing to. So, he called Hance and said something like: "Look, you're our top offer. We like you, but if something comes up, we'll offer someone else."

Hance thought something like: "Oh, well, it's 10 p.m. (just about three hours after Medline called me and I gave a vague timetable). Heck no, I'm not visiting Vanderbilt. I'm going to pick NU over Nebraska, Missouri and everyone right now because this is 2013 and people should stop pretending that the Cats don't have the reputation of ‘other schools.'"

Creative liberty aside, Cushing has been an awesome recruiter. Others always help, but one year after bringing along two new starters (Konopka, Deiters), I also have no reason to question his coaching ability.

I'm not going to fake being an expert in analyzing offensive line nuances. (Direct all questions to Matt Rice.)

Who looks good? Shane Mertz. Geoff Mogus. Pretty much all of them, really, at least according to Fitz-speak.

As for leadership, Brandon Vitabile is the man. He was among the on-field leaders last season. He's the undisputed unit veteran, and someone who experienced first-hand exactly what it took to spring Venric.

And yes, I have faith in Cushing. Tons of it. They might take one minor step back, but it's nothing that can't be solved in position meetings. I'm optimistic.

Do you predict the starting lineup will be anything other than: C— Olah, PF— Drew, SF— Cobb, SG— Demps, PG— Sobolewski? — Jon Leibowitz

First, I'm glad you gave Demps some respect. The junior received flak for his quick trigger, especially near the end of the season. It was warranted, but not a reflection of the player. He's always called the hardest worker on this team, and Collins will love that.

With that being said, this is what I have penciled in for now. I'm horrible with predictions (like, really bad), but think this makes sense:

Sobolewski
Cobb/Demps
Crawford
Lumpkin/Abrahamson/Taphorn
Olah

Of course, summer practice sessions will leave us with a much clearer picture of Collins' plans. This team will face initial struggles. I do think fans should be patient during this rebuilding process—which could involve another sub-.500 season. Even with Crawford staying, Northwestern will need years to find consistent success.

The 2013-14 Wildcats are small, as usual. Really small. They also have only one capable point guard.

Collins' primary and immediate goal should be to figure out where the potential lies.

So my first thought: Lumpkin. He's athletic. He was projected to break out before the early-season string of injuries. Though I like that Abrahamson earned experience in the 2012-13 debacle, he's best suited to come off the bench and drain threes.

Why not Demps? He's small, for one. This team could add important inches by inserting Lumpkin—who also has two more years of eligibility. It's possible Demps could overtake Cobb at the two-guard position, but I doubt that both would begin the season on the court. Both shooting guards have clearly defined roles and will contribute in some form.

Stray thought:

The thing about NU recruits is that you never know which ones turn into ideal fits. Nate Taphorn will excel in the Chris Collins offense, and it's only a matter of time before that happens. He's excellent from the outside, and with improved ball handling, could be an above-average Big Ten small forward.

I'd rather have Taphorn than Jaren Sina. Sound crazy? It's not. I'd much prefer that Collins pick his own point guard in the future—someone who he sees leading the team for four years. At the end of the day, Collins did not originally recruit Sina.

In the short-term, I'll take the drama-loving New Jersey point guard. In the long term, I love Taphorn's ability and demeanor, and wouldn't just file him along with all of the other skinny small forwards on this team. He's good.

But for now: Sobo, Cobb, Crawford, Lumpkin, Olah. If someone gets injured, then, darn.

To submit questions for the next Purple Wildcats mailbag, tweet @NMedlineFOX, e-mail njmedline@gmail.com, or post on our message boards.


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