Practice Notes: Secondary Sharp

Purple Wildcats with the latest on who stood out at Northwestern's opening practice.

Daniel Jones was outstanding throughout Northwestern practice. He and Nick VanHoose–of course–dominated first-team reps and made several strong reads in the first hour. Jones looked confident and matched VanHoose with an excellent showing. With the Jerry Brown loyalty system and more of the same, he'll have absolutely no problem reassuring fans that this cornerback tandem can play.

— The most exciting position battle should be between Dean Lowry and Deonte Gibson for the defensive end spot. They split reps, and after practice, Gibson spoke extensively about the competition. He praised Lowry for his maturity, and though the battle will only intensify throughout summer, both should be able to contribute in some role.

Christian Jones might have been the strongest offensive player in the first practice. He looked smooth and sure-handed in every drill. Jones loves the state of his position group, and even complimented true freshman Tommy Fuessel for making a quick adjustment. Tony Jones had a tough afternoon, but others like Cameron Dickerson and even Kyle Prater were solid.

Kain Colter was in midseason form with his elusive ability. At the end of the practice, he dashed to the outside and found open field. He, Trevor Siemian and Zack Oliver were strong throwing the ball. After some rough early tosses, Matt Alviti looked the part of "promising freshman" with some bullets to the outside.

— One lingering question: How does Hunter Niswander look? The answer: good. Niswander only lined up field goals near the beginning of practice, but showcased a strong leg that could send him to kickoff duties in his freshman season. That's one quiet but important question for the summer, and today Niswander excelled.

— Despite the small sample size, I was impressed by the look of this defensive line. C.J. Robbins, Will Hampton and Chance Carter could all vie for that final defensive tackle spot—assuming Sean McEvilly locks down the other. Deonte Gibson thinks they're more than ready to fill that void.

— My offensive line predictions after Day One:
LT— Konopka, Olson
LG— Mogus, DePietro
C— Vitabile, Baker
RG— Park, Frazier
RT— Jorgensen, Mertz

That's informed by some first-team rep distribution as well as overall spring results. It's early, but anyone can make predictions. Park appears to be in perfect shape to win the right guard spot.

Venric Mark showed incredible emotional intensity. He's a role model for young backs, as he takes every rep seriously. When Brandon Williams launched punts early in the session, Mark would loudly "call off" his blockers—even though not a single person was near him. He's something.

Stephen Buckley picked up right where he left off in spring. He has strong receiving instincts and caught the ball with ease. Though Mark and Mike Trumpy should dominate the carry distribution, Buckley can slide into some slot receiver action this season.

— Don't sleep on Mike McHugh. Why? He's really fast. After redshirting last year, McHugh was sensational on day one. That depth chart sure looks cluttered, but at the very least, good showings from less experienced players will apply some pressure to the veterans.

— I'm thinking that Jaylen Prater will back up Damien Proby at middle linebacker. It appeared to me that the redshirt freshman could see more snaps than someone else with the same last name. Drew Smith took about 70 percent of first-team reps for that third linebacker opening, with Collin Ellis taking the rest.

— Other guys who look good: Ibraheim Campbell, Ifeadi Odenigbo, every defensive tackle and every quarterback. Overall, it was an excellent workout. They're not all like that. Fitzgerald often calls his team out for fatigue, but that didn't seem at all relevant on day one.

We'll have more from Pat Fitzgerald and the players. Stay tuned to PurpleWildcats.com for coverage of summer football practice.


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