Spring Practice Developments

Some overall notes from the month of Northwestern spring practice.

Offense

— Matt Alviti threw some interceptions early in practice. This, as someone pointed out on the message boards, could be a result of strategy. He said that often, quarterbacks are encouraged to "force" throws for the benefit of defenses and strategy. Regardless, he made several accurate throws in recent practices. In an offense-only drill, he showed comfort in finding receivers in the end zone. Pat Fitzgerald said Alviti — in his first spring go-round — just needs to gain comfort with the system. How well he does with that could define his career.

Zack Oliver was immediately impressive for specific reasons. He shed 20 pounds during the offseason and showed added mobility. In nearly every drill at the end of practice, he runs a couple of options. On Tuesday, he even made the decision to tuck it in. This is something to watch. Otherwise, people have long praised his arm strength. His development as a complete quarterback is going well. It's been nice to watch.

— The offense already plays to the strength of Trevor Siemian. He attempts passes similar to what he would in game situations. There's been the occasional deep toss, but that may be more intended to test Nick VanHoose and the secondary. Offensive coordinator Mick McCall clearly wants to implement a dynamic mid-range passing game. Siemian has thrown consistently to five or six different receivers (more on them later) and is working the perimeter of the field. These 10- to 15-yard passes will be crucial to the success of this offense.

— Running back can be a difficult position to assess in non-contact drills, obviously. Still, it must benefit rising senior back Treyvon Green to have enhanced opportunity. Guys like Green, Warren Long and Xavier Menifield showcase the depth at the position—even without the incoming freshmen or Venric Mark or Stephen Buckley.

Cameron Dickerson might be the most important player right now. He caught 20 combined passes in the last two seasons. But now, with the departure of Rashad Lawrence, he is expected to adopt a larger role. Every practice, a heavy diet of throws heads his way. He's had a couple of receptions longer than 30 yards already, perhaps a sign that he could be a "deep threat" in this offense. He looks confident as a presumed starter.

Miles Shuler is not one of those hype guys destined for unfulfilled potential. The coaching staff has run reverses for him in multiple practices. He will contribute in the short passing game. Northwestern makes sense for Shuler, who left a pro-style offense at Rutgers for another that will better suit his skillset. He's seen multiple targets in every practice. Another note: Andrew Scanlan sees first team reps. That might not indicate a starring role, right away, but the coaches have faith in him. Last season, he was one of the most consistent scout team players—and has sure hands.

— Otherwise, Tony Jones and Christian Jones are healthy and making catches all over the field. Redshirt freshman Macan Wilson continues to be a loud and consistent scout team presence. Jayme Taylor is another exciting player who has seen opportunities in his first spring practice. Some members of the unit might not be experienced, but there is some depth and versatility at the position.

— The offensive line proved more interesting. Adam DePietro spoke to PurpleWildcats.com about the concept of "earned and deserved." With no spot guaranteed on the O-line, players are competitive and candid. DePietro admitted he was unhappy with his own inconsistency while playing with the twos. Others, like Jack Konopka, have fallen down the depth chart but could recover with improved play.

— Given the idea of "earned," two guys saw increased opportunity. Eric Olson and Matt Frazier are playing with the first team offensive line. Paul Jorgensen and Geoff Mogus likely cemented their starting roles with solid stints in their first season. The right side of the offensive line is wide open. Jorgensen, Mogus, Vitabile, Frazier and Olson are playing for the first team. Shane Mertz, Kenton Playko, Hayden Baker, DePietro and Konopka are playing with the twos. Both are listed from left to right.

Defense

— As I mentioned Tuesday, NU appears (understandably) comfortable with its safety depth. Ibraheim Campbell and Traveon Henry are now experienced starters. Godwin Igwebuike and Kyle Queiro—playing on the second unit—are backups with high potential. This could explain Jimmy Hall's move to linebacker. At least one secondary spot has clarity.

— Siemian and Oliver are challenging the corners. Nick VanHoose is trying to improve his defense against the deep ball. The results have been strong given how difficult it is for cornerbacks to succeed in drills. His most impressive skill: Swatting the ball away instead of tipping it up. That's haunted NU corners in the past, but they're looking to shut down plays and be more aggressive. We haven't seen enough throws going towards Matt Harris to properly judge how he's doing.

— In terms of position battles, Drew Smith versus Jimmy Hall at linebacker might have the most intrigue. Both are splitting first team reps 50-50. Collin Ellis moved to middle linebacker and Chi Chi Ariguzo remains one of the team's best playmakers. I've heard amazing things about Brett Walsh from nearly everyone. The redshirt freshman from Monrovia (Calif.) takes second team reps on the outside, next to Jaylen Prater in the middle. Anthony Walker is competing for reps as well.

— It's very difficult to judge the defensive line given the number of injuries. Still, Greg Kuhar—who has been injured for much of his time here—earned major praise from Pat Fitzgerald. At the very least, he should be a "rotational" player. C.J. Robbins still likely has the edge over Kuhar and Connor Mahoney—who have both seen opportunities in spring.


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