Practice Notes: Long Fields

The latest from Northwestern's Wednesday afternoon practice.

— After a lethargic start to his season, Nick VanHoose played exceptionally well on Wednesday afternoon. The redshirt sophomore cornerback had two interceptions—one an obvious pick-six–and benefited from the attention of defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz. They ran drills to aid the secondary, with Hankwitz seeming to encourage more aggression and confidence from his corners.

Jeff Budzien continued his encouraging season by knocking a 51-yard field goal through the uprights early in practice. He's an excellent leader, in the sense that he takes every drill seriously and does his job. We're certainly looking at a true Groza candidate in Budzien.

Dan Vitale was likely the offensive MVP from practice, and caught several passes from both key quarterbacks. Give credit to offensive coordinator Mick McCall for dialing up a variety of plays centered on his superback, and of course to Bob Heffner for helping to develop Vitale. We could see an even more expanded role for him in future weeks.

Deonte Gibson and Ifeadi Odenigbo were two standout defensive ends; the list changes every day. Even C.J. Robbins showed some energy from the outside. This position might be the team's greatest strength, and should stay that way for years to come.

Will Hampton talked about the defensive tackles having an ambitious outlook. One important name to note: Max Chapman. The redshirt sophomore moved inside–away from a crowded depth chart–and saw increased reps there. He's right behind Hampton, Chance Carter and Sean McEvilly, and can work his way up.

— Of course, as we mentioned yesterday, Pat Fitzgerald will likely burn Warren Long's redshirt—perhaps even this week. Long saw first-team reps, from seemingly out of nowhere, and played fairly well. He's a motivated athlete, and adds to the loaded depth chart. What does this mean for Venric Mark? At the moment, your guess is as good as mine, though nothing suggests that Mark will be out for a long-term period.

Mike Jensen, Cameron Dickerson and Macan Wilson all made some nice catches. Northwestern looks much more capable in passing to the sidelines. Especially against Minnesota last year, that quality appeared to be one glaring weakness. This also isn't the Wildcats' passing game of old, with Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian both on point again.

— NU continued its emphasis on special teams play. I'd assume they want to avoid any unforced errors, and Randy Bates instructed the kickoff coverage team. (These drills also further hinted that Long will play this week; he took reps there as well.) Otherwise, it was a focused practice for an NU team hoping to stay perfect this weekend.

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