- Constructing an offensive line that we feel comfortable with heading into preseason
- The progression of the Defense
- Special Teams, especially Kickers and Punters. [Quotes from NU Sports]
Fortunately for the Wildcats, Right Tackle Zach Streif and Center Trevor Rees are both back and should continue to play right where they are, but there are 3 other big holes left to fill from graduation.The other battle that has to be considered during the Spring is the one at running back.
First on the list to step up has to be the three backup on the 2 deep from last year - Joe Tripodi [6-3 300] at guard and Dylan Thiry [6-8 295] at tackle are easy, but Adam Crum [6-1 270] has had very limited playing time as Rees' backup and at 270 would seem to be small anywhere but at center.
Fortunately there's another talented upperclassman around, Vince Clarke [6-5 305], who is one of the faster men up front, but who has battled injuries his entire NU career. Can play any position up front - I'd suspect that he'll slide into the right guard slot next to Streif, if he can stay healthy [which might be carved on his locker door this year].
Another highly regarded recruit who hasn't seen much playing time is Austin Matthews. Originally recruited as another center along with Trevor Rees, he came into 2004 as a reserve guard, a position he's played before. He'll have to be considered among the 2 deep candidates this year also.
Another candidate to move up to the 2 deep has to be former DE, fomer DT, former TE, now O-Lineman, Ryan Keenan [6-4 275]. He has a bit of playing time under his belt, but mostly on defense. At 6-4 he's tall enough to be a decent guard, but probably needs a few more pounds. You have to admire his versatility - he seems to pick up positions quickly.
There's also Fred McConnell [6-3 285], who seems to have the size to play at guard, but is still learning the Division I line game.
The guys who will be fighting for time will be the redshirt freshman Alex Rucks [6-4 290] and two walkons, James Lawler [6-5 300] and Joel Belding [6-3 285]. Belding, who also played Defensive Tackle in HS, is almost big enough to challenge at guard. Lawler is tackle sized already and probably needs more time in the program.
This spring will be an important time for all of the 5 up front, as there are 5 new big guys heading to Evanston this summer. The challenge is for the folks on the 2 deep bubble to step up and impress enough to maintain their positions as the coaches work to get the best 5 on the field.
NU Tradition during the Randy Walker era is that the next running back comes from the previous year's backup. Every indication is that Terrell Jordan [5-10 200], last year's #2, will be starting the Spring with the first unit, with Brandon Roberson [5-9 190] and Nathan Shanks [5-11 220] as backups.Yup, there's still a lot to talk about heading into the Spring Drills -
But also in the mix will have to be Gerard Hamlett [5-11 205] and Akeem Hunter [5-11 205]. Both have been sitting on the sidelines as they redshirtted and will be working to improve their position ahead of the arrival of two highly regarded freshman in the Fall.
I consider the running back battle as interesting as the lineman. Roberson had a few bursts of success as a true freshman, averaging 7 1/2 yards a carry [OK, on 2 carries, but its a start]. He also has experience running behind Trevor Rees.
Nathan Shanks is a pretty quick, big kid who walked on at NU. Is also a special teams player but last spring got a lot of reps as a reserve. At 220, he's the biggest of the running backs.
So come out to Spring Practice and watch who lines up with which O-Line as James Patton shuffles the big guys around looking for chemistry, then see who lines up behind which QB and breaks the big runs.
We'll continue the discussion in Part III - Who gets to play with Loren?
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