Practice Notes: The Hype Builds

Chris Emma offers praise of Malin Jones, Traveon Henry, Zack Oliver and more in this Purple Wildcats Premium Update.

Pat Fitzgerald promised the Wildcats' first few practices at Camp Kenosha would be grueling. He sure wasn't kidding. Northwestern logged two more hours on the practice field on Tuesday evening, doing so in front of the Big Ten Network cameras.

— Talking with BTN's analysts–who are doing their annual tour to each Big Ten team's camp–and the consensus is that this Northwestern team is the strongest, most athletic team they have seen. Their sentiments seem to validate all those Rose Bowl dreams that Cat fans are having. This is a team that could compete for the conference title.

— The Wildcats' depth at safety continues to impress me. Ibraheim Campbell will of course be the starter at one safety spot, but Traveon Henry, Jimmy Hall and Godwin Igwebuike can each make a case to be the other starter. With Igwebuike–arguably the most impressive freshman on the team–it's all about whether it's worth burning his redshirt.

— It was Traveon Henry delivering the play of the day, making an athletic interception on a deflected pass to the end zone during 7-on-7 drills. Henry is a ballhawk in the secondary.

— The next-best play came from defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo, who picked off a deflected pass juggled by five different players and returned for several yards.

— While Odenigbo, Tyler Scott and Dean Lowry will steal most of the headlines at defensive end, Pat Fitzgerald offered plenty of praise for Deonte Gibson. When asked about him after practice, Fitzgerald offered a quiet, short response. Asked why so quiet on describing Gibson, Fitzgerald said: "I don't want anyone to know about him."

— Northwestern is utilizing Malin Jones in a reserve role at running back. The redshirt freshman has potential to be a breakout star once he gets his chance on the field. Jones was a highly recruited prospect who has added size to his frame. There's certainly a lot to like about his game.

— The development of quarterback Zack Oliver remains the change that caught my attention the most. Oliver has always had a cannon arm–one of the strongest on the team–but he's now throwing with accuracy. He has also added some muscle to his frame, as Fitzgerald noted after practice.

— Something Fitzgerald told the team after practice caught my attention. He told the players on offense to be aware of which official receives the ball after the play is dead—namely for hurry-up situations. By giving it to the lines judge, the ball is spotted without hesitation, as opposed to having it passed around by several officials and wasting time off the clock. Kenosha is the time to emphasize the little details.

— After practice ended, the Wildcats held their annual watermelon-eating contest. After two-plus years on the beat, I still have no idea what the rules are. Frankly, everyone wins in a watermelon-eating contest.

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