The other Prater prepares for spotlight

After an incredibly strong redshirt season, Jaylen Prater looks to secure his role on Northwestern—and appears to be well on his way.

Number 51 can play. He will play. The dynamic middle linebacker darts through drills with precision because he refuses to end up on the sidelines once again.

The name "Jaylen Prater" often arose last year during discussions of scout team standouts. He earned Northwestern Practice Player of the Week three times, twice on defense and once on special teams.

But that won't suffice anymore.

After practice on Tuesday, Prater paused before summarizing his redshirt season the only way he could.

"Being a redshirt… You can't play," he said. "You have to do something. Those are the closest things I can get to being on the field: being a great scout team player. It's very crucial in practice and preparing for games."

In 2013, Prater now looks the part. During the first two practices, he monopolized second-team reps at middle linebacker, where he appears capable of landing on the two-deep.

Prater was especially impressive in footwork drills; he's that guy who took his first year to improve. He credited Jerry Brown for teaching him the value of maximizing the redshirt process.

"Coach Brown always talks about using practice experience and translating it to game experience," he said. "To me, never being on the field, that's what I'll have to do. Everything's worked out well. I retained a lot from last season."

Everyone–probably for good reason–focuses on the battle between Collin Ellis and Drew Smith for the third linebacker position. Still, unit depth should prove vital. If Prater and others like Timmy Vernon excel during camp, Fitzgerald and Randy Bates will be content heading into the season.

Prater, though, has ambitious goals ahead of him. That diligence carried him through 2012 and into the season of opportunity—one in which he's ready to work for his spot.

"My goal is to secure a starting role, anywhere," Prater said. "Right now, first off, I'm looking to secure a role in special teams and be a big impact there. My goal is to start on defense, and wherever that takes me is where I'll be."

We watch training camp for these types of situations. Perhaps 15 starting spots are nearly locked up, and after that, everyone fights. Thankfully for Jaylen Prater, he knows how.

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