Practice Notes: Scanlan stepping up

Our longest notes ever, focusing on the young secondary, depleted defensive line, with a bold prediction.

— The primary takeaway is that Matt Alviti's lost out there. After Northwestern's Wednesday practice, Pat Fitzgerald said he needed to "learn the system," which is a coded but significant criticism. Alviti was intercepted by little-used linebacker Eric Hauser and Godwin Igwebuike—with several other throws close to being picked. It was the lowest completion percentage I've ever seen from a quarterback group, though Zack Oliver's touch pass has started to improve.

Andrew Scanlan leads the group of receivers for the fourth starting spot. The redshirt sophomore from Royersford (PA) made solid catches down the middle, looking more physically ready than in past seasons. I've also been praising Mike McHugh for about nine months. Offensive coordinator Mick McCall dialed up several plays for McHugh on the outside, with the wideout dazzling throughout. Each should see targets in the upcoming season.

— Fitzgerald talked extensively about Kyle Prater and the importance of "eyes." He still needs to grow as a wide receiver, but five practices in, Fitzgerald "likes where he's at." We do, too: Prater laid out Dwight White after the catch in the highlight of practice. In past practices, he's been sharper and more physical than in past seasons. I know, the hype has been unfounded in the past, but he's got an opportunity to grow.

Jimmy Hall did not play Thursday, with Drew Smith taking outside linebacker reps. The second group comprised Joseph Jones, Anthony Walker and Brett Walsh. Though Walsh clearly has the highest ceiling, Jones continues to play well in practice. NU struggled to find a role for Jones, but it's great to see the hard-working converted linebacker earn reps with the twos. He's not an especially gifted player, but you never know these days.

Adam DePietro spoke candidly with PW following practice about him not doing enough to earn the role. More on that later. The offensive line played fairly well on Thursday, with every single role open aside from (probably) Brandon Vitabile and Geoff Mogus. One nice thing to see: Brad North participated in non-contact drills. The redshirt freshman has suffered from injuries throughout his career. DePietro also told PW that offensive line coach Adam Cushing stressed the point of "earned and deserved." It's a tough mindset around here.

Keith Watkins might be criminally underrated. He consistently gels with the team in practice, but he's now stranded in the deepest position group. Still, with solid scout team reps, he's a candidate to slide into the fourth corner role now occupied by Jarrell Williams/Dwight White. The entire young secondary excelled, with Igwebuike and Kyle Queiro looking excellent as backup safeties. Somehow, Jerry Brown now oversees a deep and outstanding position group—with the Parrker Westphal future bright.

— With Deonte Gibson not playing today, the depleted defensive line looked as follows, from left to right: Dean Lowry, C.J. Robbins, Greg Kuhar, Eric Joraskie. Needless to say, right now, that wouldn't win them many games. Still, Joraskie looks to be among the favorites to be a redshirt freshman impact player. There's certainly a role for him in the future. Kuhar, an interesting case, looks to recover from injuries and finally reach his potential.

— I'm guessing that either Justin Jackson, Auston Anderson or Solomon Vault will lose his redshirt this season. I don't trust the depth chart behind Venric Mark and Stephen Buckley—both injured. Treyvon Green looks sluggish, with Malin Jones more of a formational superback. Warren Long is more of a solid special teams player than a dominant back. They should have room for another back, especially after last year's backfield mess. There's no reason to risk anything, even if it sacrifices a redshirt.

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