Pat Fitzgerald on end of spring

Northwestern's spring practice session came to a close with Saturday's open scrimmage. Pat Fitzgerald offered his thoughts on a busy past few weeks.

- "We had to adjust, and we had to adjust quickly," Fitzgerald said. "We had good attention to detail. But we're definitely behind, and it's critically important to see how we move forward, not only in the weight room and with conditioning but in creating chemistry and putting the team together." Fitz seemed wary about how the Wildcats are gelling thus far, but the team was resilient in spite of injuries to four starters and many more rotational players.

- "Defensive line, I can't tell you where we're going to be at in the fall. That is a major work in progress. In no way, shape or form are we ready to make any analysis, and I would say the same thing about running back." Both units looked rocky at times, but Greg Kuhar, Dean Lowry and Warren Long all looked excellent this spring. Fitzgerald told PW that Kuhar will be "at a minimum, a rotational player" this fall.

- "We've got to get some things solidified in our kicking game," Fitz said. We didn't see any special teams drills this spring, but of course NU loses senior starters at kicker and punter. Competition for the return specialist job will be something to watch this summer.

- Fitzgerald added that the current redshirt freshman class is behind his schedule, largely because they have yet to see postseason play. Fitz has been critical of this group before, and likened the "ah ha!" realization process to watching his son Jack learn how to put on a football helmet for the first time.

- "If your linebackers can run, play fast and physical, and show up to the ball in a bad mood, then you're in a good place. I'm just glad they don't run like Coach [Randy] Bates," Fitz said. The LB unit was the only one explicitly praised Saturday, and it is certainly justified: Collin Ellis looks sharp transitioning to middle linebacker, while Jimmy Hall has practiced well as a strong-side edge defender. Fitzgerald had more on Ellis: "He's jumped in with no hesitation, both feet. He's going to be one hell of a middle linebacker. Right now, based on spring, he's the leader of our defense. It ain't bad having a ragin' Cajun with a crazy look in his eye being the leader of your defense."

- Fitzgerald closed his press availability by warding off unionization questions and empathizing with his injured players. "I know what it's like. I missed spring practice my senior year; I missed the Rose Bowl. There's nothing positive about it. But, one man's missed opportunity is another man's opportunity. The third quarter of our preparation this season has allowed a lot of guys to get comfortable. We have a solid foundation, but we're still a long, long way away."

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