Good Cat, Bad Cat: Position battles shake out

Analyzing the risers and fallers in our Northwestern football stock report. This week, we're focusing on the early winners and losers of position groups.

GOOD CAT- Eric Olson
BAD CAT- Jack Konopka

In 2012—his sophomore year—Jack Konopka excelled at his new role on the offensive line. Unfortunately for Northwestern, that failed to carry over. His regression, and seeming lack of intensity, offered part of the reason why NU's offensive line slipped so badly last year. Eric Olson might lack the overall talent and strength of Konopka, but has an opportunity to gain an edge in the starting competition. He's picking up every first-team rep at right tackle, which would mark an upset on the scorecard.

GOOD CAT- Jimmy Hall
BAD CAT- Drew Smith

Collin Ellis moving to middle linebacker? That makes sense: He has experience, and Drew Smith certainly outmatches Jaylen Prater (the other middle linebacker option) in terms of talent. Surely, if you'd told me Ellis was moving inside, I'd have said that Drew Smith would start next to him. That's probably wrong. Jimmy Hall—even without the same experience—has owned the majority of first-team reps for the Wildcats. Fitzgerald praised his effort in the first two days, looking to put the "best 11" on the field. It's a major and surprising setback for Smith's career, no doubt.

GOOD CAT- Zack Oliver
GOOD CAT- Trevor Siemian

This will probably be the best story from spring practice. After three years mired in obscurity, Zack Oliver looks set to easily earn the backup role—and even push Trevor Siemian in practice drills. Oliver, now the favorite to earn the 2015 starting QB job, is firing passes all over the field while using his added mobility. Still, it's not like there's a dramatic storyline to chirp about: Trevor Siemian has been steady throughout the first two practices, and already earned a (perhaps deserved) vote of confidence from Pat Fitzgerald. Let's just say Oliver and Siemian are the two friendliest quarterback names around Evanston at the moment.

GOOD CAT- Miles Shuler
BAD CAT- Pierre Youngblood-Ary

Though we're listing Andrew Scanlan as the favorite to land the fourth starting receiver role, it'll be interesting to see how the Wildcats use their transfer. Miles Shuler has been deployed in a variety of ways already, with his versatility and speed lending itself well to this style of offense. He's been sharp and energized on the practice field, only recently removed from acting as the opponent's backup quarterback (Braxton Miller, Taylor Martinez) last season. Youngblood-Ary, meanwhile, continues to struggle with hands—dropping too many passes to become a relevant option for targets.

GOOD CAT- Matthew Harris
BAD CAT- Daniel Jones

This one's tough. Jones tore his ACL in the season opener against Cal last year, with one season of eligibility remaining. But with Jones out, a true freshman named Matthew Harris—straight out of local Lyons Township—climbed the depth chart. Now, Harris has arguably been the best player in the secondary through two practices. He's physical, athletic and polished—something that corners of old lacked. This leaves Jones in a bind. He was debatably the fall camp MVP, looking to improve from the mixed results of 2012. If his recovery isn't spectacular, Harris could, sadly, usurp him as the team's second corner and start alongside Nick VanHoose. That will certainly be a position battle to watch.

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