The general gist of practice went like this, without looking too far into everything minor:
Onto the field: Every receiver for Northwestern needs to be capable in one area, perhaps excluding Christian Jones. They need to be comfortable with quick outs, some occasional screens and some underneath routes. This offense should be defined by the “short passing” game — even more so than the running game. That plays to Siemian’s strengths, as stats would indicate. He and Matt Alviti were precise and fired passes to the outside with good timing and accuracy. Zach Oliver struggled for much of practice, but that mostly involved sloppy throws to receivers up the middle. Miles Shuler and true freshman Justin Jackson fielded some throws out of the slot. Overall, it’s key for NU to emphasize its most relevant skill: Completing short passes and using several wide receivers. It seems like stating the obvious, but it should be noted that they’re not messing around in practice.
Onto the standouts: You have to love Godwin Igwebuike and Keith Watkins. Igwebuike was one of the most intense players and stepped up in coverage. He nearly intercepted Siemian with a tricky play and showed his confidence in the secondary. That safety unit with Igwebuike, Ibraheim Campbell, Kyle Queiro and Traveon Henry is dominant. (There are many reasons explaining why Jimmy Hall moved to linebacker.) Keith Watkins had an outstanding spring — probably leading the group in picks — and carried that over to the second practice of spring. He’s energized and probably capable of being a solid third corner for NU. He was an RB/CB who stepped into the secondary and succeeded with a little bit of work.
Onto the future: In three years of covering the team, I haven’t seen a more confident freshman than Justin Jackson. He plays like he expects reps. Jackson knifed up the middle and used several moves to try to get past linebackers. He also played some out of the slot — another display of why they’ll burn his redshirt this year. I’m also like everyone. I love Clayton Thorson, but … Matt Alviti dominated last summer and we’re just excited for the latest arm. He did his job. His job is to man the scout team. After hearing that Jayme Taylor dominated in summer workouts, I had to see him play. He’s excellent and the clear successor/co-superback with Dan Vitale. He has great hands down the middle and had a highlight 25-yard grab on a downfield throw by Siemian.
Buy and sell:
SELL that Olson will start over Konopka this year.
SELL that J. Hall will start over Smith this year.
BUY that Justin Jackson will burn his redshirt for the opener
SELL “Kyle Prater will have a breakout year”
BUY NU will throw on 60 percent of its offensive plays