Like: Everything Justin Jackson has done thus far
It was no secret that Justin Jackson was the Class of 2014's blue chip commit. But it's worth noting just how much Jackson has already impressed. Nick wrote Tuesday that he's never seen a more confident freshman starting camp, and thus far, the Glenbard North standout has sliced his way through the second level on runs and has taken reps in the slot. Expect him to burn the redshirt this year.
Dislike: Increased expectations for Kyle Prater
Prater's precipitous fall from five-star recruit to scarcely used option has been well documented. Though he could see more targets in a Northwestern offense eager to increase short passing, Prater still likely sits behind Cameron Dickerson for the No. 3 wideout spot. I'm very hesitant to give anything more than a dozen receptions to Prater, despite the influx of tweets predicting otherwise.
Like: Jack Konopka playing with the second team
Konopka was woeful at left tackle last fall, but I'm not buying anything into his second-team reps while Eric Olson starts scrimmages. This is a motivational tactic, and a good one. Pat Fitzgerald has always honored seniority, and the move back to right tackle — the position he performed admirably at in 2012 — will pay dividends. No way the unproven Olson starts over the senior come Cal.
Dislike: The loss of Eric Joraskie
I wrote about this briefly on Monday, but Joraskie's loss for the year particularly disappoints me. The rising redshirt freshman looked excellent in spring drills, where he took first-team reps at defensive end alongside Dean Lowry. Joraskie was a reliable fourth option behind Ifeadi Odenigbo.
Like: Everything going on at safety
Ibraheim Campbell and Traveon Henry make up one of the most formidable safety duos in the Big Ten. Godwin Igwebuike and Kyle Quiero have looked sharp in practice. This unit is promising two-deep, making Jimmy Hall's move to linebacker that much easier.
Dislike: The defensive tackles
Sean McEvilly isn't practicing, and both C.J. Robbins and Chance Carter have yet to impress this offseason. Greg Kuhar was a player Fitzgerald kept praising during spring ball, but thus far, we have no reason to feel confident about this year's group of DTs. Running backs have looked great on inside runs early on.
Like: Collin Ellis' leadership
The Fitz-described "Ragin' Cajun with a crazy look in his eyes" is looking more and more like the defensive captain that Northwestern needs. He and Chi Chi Ariguzo lead a strong linebacking unit, but Ellis' energy stands out over the notably quiet Ariguzo.
Dislike: Stephen Buckley missing practices
A shelved Buckley is bad when considering the logjam in the middle of NU's running back depth chart. Treyvon Green is the clear backup, and I like Buckley to emerge as the No. 3 option after strong performances against Iowa and Minnesota. But Justin Jackson and Warren Long will be pushing him for carries, and Buckley needs to find a way to acclimate to the short pass-heavy offense the Wildcats are implementing. He caught zero passes in the two games he was featured in last season.
Like: The offensive line's chance of improving this year
NU fielded one of the conference's worst O-lines a year ago, but with all five starters returning, a more flexible running back core and an emphasis on out routes, swings and underneath passing, it's not a stretch to say the front lines will look considerably better in 2014. Dan Vitale spoke about improving his run blocking, which was inconsistent last year, and the move back to right tackle should help Konopka. The stronger Jorgensen makes more sense at LT.
Dislike: The kicker situation
It hasn't been covered enough: Northwestern has lost a program great and senior leader in Jeff Budzien. Both Hunter Niswander and Jack Mitchell have yet to make the transition any easier. We won't be able to tell much until a real game situation, but one of these kickers has his work cut out for him. The NU offense will be better this year, but frequent stalls inside the 25 are still to be expected.