PurpleWildcats.com Spring Football Preview

PurpleWildcats.com begins its 2014 coverage of Northwestern football. Introducing our spring preview:

Welcome back to football coverage at PurpleWildcats.com. We're excited to be back, and excited for the Wildcats to recover from an abysmal 5-7 season in 2013. This new year is rife with storylines, position battles and potential new contributors. Throughout spring, we'll have coverage of all practices, with player profiles and general features. As well, we'll keep our finger on the pulse of any new developments with briefs and observations during the next six weeks. Finally, we're introducing a brand new "PW Power Rankings," documenting the 10 best players and three best position groups from practice in poll format.

Stay tuned. For now, here's our preview of what to watch—and what not to watch—as spring unfolds.

Siemian vs. Anyone?

To the question: "Can anyone beat out Siemian for the starting role?" the answer, for now, is "No." (Fitz told the Chicago Tribune about as much on Tuesday.) Siemian has a stranglehold on this position, given his comfort with the wide receivers and moderate success on Saturdays. This isn't to criticize Alviti, who should start next year, but there is one source of concern. Speaking to people around the program, the knock on Matt Alviti is that he struggles to throw a "catchable ball" to receivers. What we view as arm strength can be seen as an additional challenge for wideouts. Given Siemian's rapport with Christian Jones and Tony Jones, and the potential for improvement as the lone man under center, he's the obvious favorite. Still, we'll watch to see if Alviti, or even Zack Oliver, can pull off a stunning upset beginning with a solid spring.

Parrker Westphal

Sure to be the target of media attention, Parrker Westphal will join NU drills tomorrow as an early enrollee—the first of the Pat Fitzgerald era. He's not necessarily going to be an immediate impact player, with the safety and corner depth charts looking fairly steady. Still, he's an outstanding talent and we'll get to watch his full progress as an NU player. This should help him see the field earlier, and perhaps help him to avoid any redshirt, but the former Bolingbrook (Ill.) standout will have to prove his worth in the early going. From all accounts, he's capable of doing that.

Battle to replace Budzien

This one's going to be interesting. Hunter Niswander and Jack Mitchell are battling for the placekicking duties this year—my edge going to Mitchell. Niswander is viewed as more of the long term punter for Northwestern; it seems to be his greater strength. Especially after Brandon Williams' late struggles last year, he'll be a valuable specialist and player for NU during these next four years. Mitchell, a quieter name, has always looked sharp in practice. No one compared to Jeff Budzien—not even on the practice field—but Mitchell looks the part of a 40-and-in type kicker who can put points on the board. Don't expect another Jeff walking through these doors, at least not until the ‘Cats can lock up 2015 Belleville West (Ill.) kicker Austin Seibert.

Middle linebacker?

This is one that should gain clarity almost immediately: Who should replace graduating senior Damien Proby up the middle? Jaylen Prater's my obvious favorite, after he cracked the two-deep at MLB last year. Anyone, though, could step in knowing Pat Fitzgerald. Regardless of whether Prater lands this role, the linebacker corps is something to watch in the coming seasons. Chi Chi Ariguzo and Collin Ellis are done on the outside after this season, making it imperative that they attack LBs on the 2015 recruiting trail. They'll need many more hits than misses.

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