Rant to Purple: Worries in the corner

On the NU secondary, Jack Konopka's brilliance and the "two-quarterback system."


During game week, I participated in this 12-team fantasy PPR auction draft—which sounds more like some mixture of hallucinogens than a reasonable way to spend Wednesday night.

Let's call my team "deep." At running back: C.J. Spiller, DeAngelo Williams, Joique Bell, Mike Tolbert, Mike Goodson, Robert Turbin, Jordan Todman and Justin Forsett.

Let's call NU's secondary "deep," as Pat Fitzgerald forcibly implied after Wednesday's practice. At cornerback: Nick VanHoose, Daniel Jones, C.J. Bryant, Matt Harris, Jarrell Williams, some redshirts (Keith Watkins and Marcus McShepard) and select others who will never see the field except in games against Maine and Tim Beckman.

Now take out DeAngelo Williams–our Daniel Jones for comparison–and I'm drinking my way to the finish line while contemplating trades for Giovani Bernard. What if the trade deadline passed? Then I'm overseeing the NU secondary, a unit that now relies on surprise players and Jerry Brown magic—with the latter not to be discounted. But at the moment, if we're not worried, we're in denial.

Daniel Jones was the team's most improved player during training camp. He fought through adversity (Michigan, period) and looked passable at the end of 2012. This wasn't even close to a competition between Jones and White for the starting spot; NU would rely on Jones-VanHoose to float championship aspirations.

White planned to ease his way in as the third option in dime packages. That seemed like an ideal role for the obviously inexperienced redshirt freshman. I should add that his ceiling might be higher than anyone in the group save for VanHoose. Though there are mistakes–and will be many more–he showed flashes of his potential and they were sweet.

As everyone could admit, though, the Jones injury ruined his natural progression. Steven Goldstein pulled some honest quotations from interviews with VanHoose, White and Brown earlier this week. Some of the highlights:

Brown: "If you catch a new guy out there, he's going to be baptized."

White: "I'm a young guy, anybody that knows football knows that you're gonna pick on the young guy."

VanHoose: "Mentally, I feel like I wasn't prepared enough for the Cal game." [Talking about himself.]

Brown: "Once you get out there and know you can do it, you start to get a sense you can do it. Then you look forward to going back out there again."

So these are the questions: Can VanHoose recover from a lousy opener? Can White adjust in time to help the NU secondary avoid serious setbacks? Can anyone behind the starters make solid and consistent contributions?

My guesses: Yes, no, maybe. White labored through practice this week like a tired player, and though Syracuse and Drew Allen might feed him some confidence, this could be another year in which cornerback struggles submarine championship hopes.

There's some good. Harris and Keith Watkins project as future starters, with mounds of natural talent between the two. VanHoose is only in his second year of eligibility, and Jones will return for his senior year—hopefully better than ever.

But for now, let's skip the denial. This unit isn't deep, isn't a strength and will need the 20-odd years of Jerry Brown wisdom to overcome a long, trying season.

Jack Konopka was a superback.

And can you imagine the hypothetical superback depth chart at this point?

Dan Vitale would lead a four-year backup crew of Konopka, Mark Szott and Jack Schwaba—with true freshman Jayme Taylor looking more and more like his replacement after each solid practice.

Thankfully, NU set Konopka's quietly weird career in motion by ushering in a timely position switch. (The only downside: They trashed one year of eligibility with Konopka as backup SB, which included a single catch for six yards.)

Then, out of nowhere, he went from reserve superback to questionable right tackle to indispensable right tackle. One weak link in that O-line and you're screwed.

But in a defining moment for Adam Cushing, the offensive line coach worked in two new starters–Konopka and Neal Deiters–who helped spring Venric Mark to the legendary 1,366-yard season.

This year, Konopka looks dominant. During one-on-one drills Wednesday, he faced off against D-linemen including Tyler Scott and Dean Lowry—winning every battle. (He then trash-talked Chance Carter, which was excellent.)

Konopka is now at left tackle–with Paul Jorgensen doing fine on the right–and has some lofty potential. He's also the model for O-line success. The group, even with Netter and Burkett, struggled in 2011. They needed Konopka to set a standard: Next man up. Work hard. Don't worry about the names. You'll be fine.

The relatively inexperienced guards, Ian Park and Geoff Mogus, were excellent in week one and could help Trevor Siemian have an even easier time in the pocket. Regardless of the rather unique path, Konopka almost qualifies as a "breakout" candidate.

It starts with recruiting and ends on the field with execution. If we're not talking about Konopka in every NU offense-related conversation by season's end, I'll be surprised. Wednesday was a pretty reminder.

Siemian v. Colter.

Let's not forget how well Trevor Siemian played on Saturday. In full relief of Colter, quarterback 1-b racked up an outstanding 9.5 yards per attempt. Dan Vitale, Christian Jones and Tony Jones each caught five passes. The passing game finally looked good, and the balanced offense helped propel Treyvon Green to his 129-yard outing.

No matter where you stand in the debate regarding how Colter should be used, I refuse to criticize last week's offensive performance. The Siemian-led offense racked up 508 yards, and with better play calling (and better field position), they might have pulled off even greater things.

This is not a two-quarterback system; it's two one-quarterback systems. Siemian and Colter run completely different offensive looks, something highlighted by Saturday's solid outing. Zone read or West Coast, either quarterback can do enough to win football games as an individual.

Of course, I'd expect the Colter attack to find more success on the ground. Perhaps the hobbled Venric Mark could even have found space on the perimeter. Maybe Stephen Buckley would have seen more involvement.

So Jones, Jones and Vitale combined for 15 catches on Saturday. If Colter were throwing, I'd set the over/under at 8.5 completions to those three. By losing their starting quarterback, the Wildcats lost some things but gained others—without question.

That's the two-quarterback system. Each guy can stand alone.

PurpleWildcats.com will be on hand to cover the Northwestern-Syracuse matchup this afternoon.

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