Practice Notes: Ready to peak

Our subscriber-exclusive update from Northwestern practice on Wednesday afternoon.

— Now at left tackle, Jack Konopka was excellent this afternoon. The O-line appeared inconsistent during some drills, but the second-year starter showed his experience with good form and aggression. We're still looking at the same starting five up front, which should do a fine job of protecting Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian.

— The wide receivers had a strong practice. Pierre Youngblood-Ary built upon his two-touchdown outing yesterday with more catches along the perimeter. Fifth-year senior Mike Jensen and true freshman Tommy Fuessel were other standouts—part of a solid day for this unit.

— Matt Harris continues to hang around in the fight for playing time. The true freshman earned some second-team reps and might even be one of the top four corners on the roster. He's unlikely to play as it stands, but one injury or mishap could vault him onto the depth chart. We heard great things about the Lyons Township HS (Ill.) product. He's been impressive so far.

— There were some other freshman winners on the day. Macan Wilson combines decent hands with bursts of speed, and could one day figure into the return game. Xavier Menifield can make an impact with a strong redshirt season, following the mold of Malin Jones—who looks the part of a future contributor. And of course, Godwin Igwebuike can play.

— Dean Lowry has made a convincing case to start in the season opener. Tyler Scott praised him for his willingness to learn schemes last season. That pays off these days in his tight competition for the lead role. We're not at all sure how the defensive tackles will turn out, but there's plenty of depth at defensive end.

— The DE spot really does appear loaded. Eric Joraskie will be a solid player for Northwestern in future seasons. Max Chapman excelled in limited time last year, and would be a serviceable backup. It's a strong group, and we haven't even mentioned Deonte Gibson and Ifeadi Odenigbo.

— Backup linebackers were outstanding once again, and the group wins my extremely informal "Most Valuable Position Group" honors. Timmy Vernon broke up one pass, leading to a Terrance Brown interception. Joseph Jones and Jaylen Prater (who screams multi-year starter) also played well on Wednesday.

— NU will find use for Stephen Buckley this season. He can line up in the slot and catch passes out of the backfield. He fits the perfect mold for this team, which frequently relies on the short passing game. This group of running backs is excellent—another testament to strong recruiting efforts.

— Trevor Siemian provided reason for optimism today with some nice sideline tosses to various receivers. He's separated himself from the quarterbacks group with accuracy, and I'd expect to see further improvement in the 2013 season. They do need Siemian to move the ball late in games.

— The starting cornerback tandem of Nick VanHoose and Daniel Jones looked sharp today, as they have throughout training camp. VanHoose expressed his excitement about the secondary depth–bolstered by freshmen like Harris–and of the pass-heavy Cal attack he expects to see in the opening week.


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