Northwestern looked focused in all aspects of its Tuesday morning session at Trienens Hall. The Wildcats made very few mistakes, showed some creative looks and “executed” their plays well. Most important: It seemed like a potential simulation of their actual offense. Trevor Siemian used the short passes and screen game effectively throughout practice. Plus, they balanced the attack and worked with multiple weapons. It was an early sight of what offensive coordinator Mick McCall hopes to accomplish with this group. There were many positives, many of which you could see during game week. This year, Tony Jones will be the clear No. 1 option—and caught his usual passes Tuesday. He darted up the middle and made midrange plays. He’s quick and comfortable and healthy. With Christian Jones out, there’s a great responsibility that he needs to pick up. Then, Kyle Prater was fantastic once again, and it’s more than an illusion. McCall committed to making plays revolve around Prater and his size. They’re trying to give him separation, and Siemian showed excellent rapport with him as they combined for several receptions. Another thing you can expect is creative use of Dan Vitale. He’s lined up in all sorts of formations, with Jayme Taylor a potential sleeper backup at the position. Also, with Justin Jackson’s recent play, expect him to contribute immediately in week one. He’s comfortable in the passing game—and Treyvon Green is as well. This mix of weapons, and many others, made this an eye-opening practice at the perfect moment.
On the defensive end, Dean Lowry was a monster. On almost every play, he pressured and dominated the second team offensive line. Deonte Gibson has quickly earned the “underrated” tag next to him. These are the two clear best options, with Ifeadi Odenigbo really fading. Listed as the “co-starter” behind Lowry with true freshman Xavier Washington, it’s easy to wonder whether Odenigbo will ever have his predicted impact. Gibson and Lowry will suffice, though, for a team that might need to hide its defensive tackles. (To be fair, it’s hard to judge D-tackles in this environment.) Nick VanHoose had an uneven practice. He was strong and deflected several passes with close coverage. At times, though, he made lapses and allowed deep completions. After struggling through a portion of last season, he’ll need to straighten his game out before Cal. Matthew Harris didn’t have his best practice either. The safety core, however, continues to look strong. Godwin Igwebuike and Kyle Queiro could be excellent players—and they’re only the backups. Ibraheim Campbell and Kyle Queiro are already mainstays. They didn’t let much past them despite the strong offensive outing. Jimmy Hall continued to impress with another solid effort in the passing game. Working Hall into the “linebacker” role was one of Pat Fitzgerald’s best personnel moves.
OTHERS: Austin Carr deserves to be on the two-deep simply based on his consistency and brilliance in practice. It’s pretty shocking. // The offensive line had some nice push, and needs to make clear improvements this season. // To reiterate, it’s surprising that Marcus McShepard will play ahead of Keith Watkins on the depth chart. // Zack Oliver looked strong while throwing balls to the back of the endzone. // Warren Long always looks good in practice—and today it was no different. // Treyvon Green played in a variety of looks as he settles into the No. 1 role again. // Solomon Vault has been outstanding in fall—and will be a great pickup—but Jackson appears to be more advanced at this stage.