Building receiver depth from within

Stephen Buckley's move to wide receiver is a new sign of innovation from Mick McCall and the Northwestern offense.

Northwestern revealed this past week that Stephen Buckley would transition to the wide receiver position. The redshirt sophomore — with a career 265 rushing yards — adds to the internal search for wideout depth.

Without Christian and now Tony Jones, offensive coordinator Mick McCall and his staff knew it needed to rely on a committee of wide receivers. Buckley’s no slouch; he ran for 99 yards last year against Iowa. Still, he can make contributions to the passing game, as so many others can.

An impressive 13 players have caught passes for Northwestern this season. McCall, in replacing his top two targets, can still use a variety of weapons. He’s built up sleepers including Pierre Youngblood-Ary and Austin Carr. He’s using several backs as wideouts — a new theme for the group.

The emergence of Justin Jackson has already led to great change for the NU offense. Buckley was expected to be the No. 2 running back heading into camp. Instead, Jackson proved he could handle the bulk of carries — showing why he was considered of the team’s best commits ever.

This is like the perfect test week for NU. They should blow past Western Illinois in a tune-up game while looking for new standouts. The Wildcats can start to use Buckley, and there’s no doubt they expect him to add another dimension. It’s not like last year, when Malin Jones moved to superback because they had nowhere else to put him.

Buckley spoke on Wednesday about his comfort at the position. It was a combined decision, he said, with Buckley knowing that the new opportunity meant he’d be able to accomplish more on offense.

Perhaps McCall thinks that his strength lies in having a dozen guys who can catch the ball. Trevor Siemian — not necessarily the most skilled quarterback — can keep defenses honest by spreading the ball. He’s proven his comfort in doing that.

Unlike some position changes, moving Buckley is hardly a sign of resignation. Northwestern’s committed to turning this around, and the adjustments are gradually showing up.

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