Practice Notes: Oliver Emerges

Some notes on key players, linebackers, secondary and the O-line as Northwestern spring practice began Wednesday morning.

Zack Oliver was the story from Wednesday's abbreviated Northwestern practice at Trienens Hall. Oliver, who appears to have slimmed down this offseason, looked agile and fresh from the outset. He was crisp in delivering passes and even appeared comfortable running the option. Better news for him and for the long-time Oliver supporters: He took the No. 2 quarterback snaps. It's a promising sign of progress for the redshirt junior, who's in position for some playing time if this holds up.

— Some more on who played where: Eric Olson and Paul Jorgensen manned the offensive tackle position. Geoff Mogus and Matt Frazier were at the guard spots, with Brandon Vitabile—of course—at center. Asked about the increase in competition at O-line this year, Fitzgerald called it the difference between "night and day." Aside from Vitabile, and deservedly Mogus (I'd assume), the other three spots should be up for grabs throughout spring and fall. After last year's dismal performance, there's a better future for this unit.

— The three projected top receivers appear to be Christian Jones, Tony Jones and Cameron Dickerson. Trevor Siemian after practice identified these three as the "leaders" of the wideout group. Tommy Fuessel is still nursing an injury, but otherwise, I'd say that Mike McHugh is among the major sleepers to land targets. In other news: Kyle Prater was quiet and Pierre Youngblood-Ary continued to underwhelm with an egregious drop on a throw from Matt Alviti late in practice.

Nick VanHoose and Matthew Harris looked sharp and healthy as the starting cornerbacks this morning. Daniel Jones, still ostensibly recovering from a torn ACL, was out. Dwight White and Jarrell Williams—more experienced players—backed them up. In the secondary, it's those top four corners, with Traveon Henry and Ibraheim Campbell the clear starting safeties. As Kevin Trahan asked Pat Fitzgerald post-practice, it'll be interesting to see where Kyle Queiro and Godwin Igwebuike fit in—if at all—this season.

— The linebacker spot might leave the only room for uncertainty. With Damien Proby graduating, Jaylen Prater is the best candidate to replace him on what's now a not-as-loaded depth chart. There's an outside chance that Collin Ellis could fit in at the MIKE, but Prater cracked the two-deep last year. Now healthy, he looks like a desirable candidate to start for three years. Perhaps my biggest and lightest "sleeper" pick to contribute is Jimmy Hall. As he grows to be more consistent as a playmaker, I can imagine defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz will throw him into a variety of schemes.

We'll have more as Northwestern practice continues on Thursday morning from Trienens Hall.


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