Here we go again - Spring Football Questions

[Updated with Injury Report] The big given in College Football is that eventually your top players graduate. Great teams don't replace, they reload, and this year the Northwestern Wildcats look to reload on the line, and in the backfield. Some big names will be missing today when the Cats get started with Spring Drills, here is our evaluation of who's standing in line to replace them.

Is it really ?
Yup, the Wildcats begin their quest for another Big 10 title today, Tuesday afternoon with run throughs, capping a Winter quarter that saw the "usual" workouts and the announcement of the new recruiting class.

So what are the big questions we hope to answer this spring.
Offensive Line?
It all starts up front and the only real question is who will replace the graduated Zach Strief. NU returns 4 starters this Spring, and is actually expecting a 5th [Trevor Rees] to return this summer, but the question will be how the O-line shuffles to replace a big hole on the left.

Streif was a big part of Tyrell Sutton's and Brett Basanez' yardage last year, both as a lead blocker, and a decoy. Kurt Mattes backed up Zach last year, but there are a couple of big guys [Thomas Bemenderfer and Ramon Diaz] who sat out last season with injuries and should be ready to contribute.

There's also a new position coach there - James Patton is chasing linemen around Norman. Bret Ingalls, another former Tight Ends coach from Miami of Ohio, is the new mentor to the "big guys."
Defensive Line?
NU, and coach Eric Washington, lost 2 of the 3 starters up front at tackle with Barry Cofield graduation, and Trevor Schultz' academic problems. John Gill is the guy with the most experience, and Adam Hahn, along with Matt Clark will probably get a long look as the other DT.

Defensive End isn't as much of a problem, although you'd like to see more of a pass rush develop from the 3 who shared starting roles.

Hopefully Corey Wootton will stay healthy to provide a hard rush from the right side. The other 3, Mark Koehn, and David Ngene will all be back with their additional year of experience, Ngene has a slight edge on the left side, but Koehn is still getting bigger without losing any speed. Warren Anderson is also officially moving back to DE.

The problem with spring is that they rarely run a full out defense because they protect the QBs. The D-Line works a lot on technique in these sessions, so you really won't know much until Kenosha,
Who replaces Basanez?
If you follow the "NU under Walker" trend, C.J. Bacher is the odds on favorite to inherit the position.

In Bacher's favor is his running game - he's looked good in practices running the ball, and if his passing keeps improving, he'll be hard to beat out.

But then there are all the Scout team reports about Andrew Brewer and Mike Kafka. A new offensive coordinator, former NU Wide Receiver coach [and QB] Garrick McGee adds a new wrinkle to the QB question this Spring.
Who replaces McGarigle?
Last season we saw a long line of Linebackers filling in for Tim McGarigle last year. Demetrius Eaton would have to be the most likely to earn the slot, but we saw true freshman Mike Dinard in the middle quite a bit, and on the injured list in '05 was the prize of last year's recruiting class, Chris Jeske, who should be playing this year.

Not sure you can actually replace McGarigle's drive and experience, but Coach Pat Fitzgerald seems to get his backers playing fast. Last year we saw all of the 2 deep playing in games. Expect that kind of rotation again in 2006.
The Big Holes among the D-Backs?
Deante Battle is not on the Spring roster - which opens up a big hole on the right side that should be filled with senior Cory Dious. Add Marquice Cole and NU just might have the corners covered.

Of course you can now add Eric Peterman and Gerard Hamlett to the mix at CB. As a former QB, Peterman should know pass coverage. Hamlett is fast and should pick it up quickly too. You do have to now question a few of the CB backups however...

Two senior safeties graduated, but Reggie McPherson played well in a backup role, and Brendan Smith actually was the starter before injuring his knee during the season.

Then there's the expected return of Bryan Heinz, who started at Free Safety before his knee injury last Summer. The Cats may be in better shape right now a safety than they were last year at this time.
Who is the long snapper?
Soph Phil Brunner from South Milwaukee is listed on the Spring Roster as the new long snapper. He's added 15 lbs this Winter
New Offensive Coordinator and Assistants?
The only offensive assistant still in his original position is tight ends coach Adam Cushing. Garrick McGee has taken over the reigns of the offense, and we'll probably not see any change in the QB performance - if anything he brings a lot of offensive experience to the table at NU. He'll probably demand as much from the offense as he did from the receivers.

Taking over for McGee with the receivers is Kevin Johns - its something he's coached before.

New to the staff are running back coach Matt MacPherson - he came from Eastern Michigan - and Offensive Line coach Bret Ingalls. NU under Walker has a bit of a tradition of moving TE coaches to O-Line. Ingalls is very highly recommended for his work at Miami [Ohio], MacPherson was a grad assistant on the NU staff before his time with EMU.
So what can we tell from the Spring
  • Who leads for QB?
  • Who replaces Streif on the right side?
  • What happens up front for the Defense
  • What happens in the backfield for the Defense
  • Who plays where at Linebacker?
  • Does NU go with a 1 back, or a 2 back spread?
but we still won't be sure after the Spring Game on April 22nd.

After we wrote this, NU Sports published their "official" article with the following information:
Several players will sit out most or all of the spring drills while rehabbing injuries: Matt Clark (ankle), Gerard Hamlett (toe), Chris Jeske (back), Ryan Keenan (mono), Austin Matthews (hip), Reggie McPherson (back), Alex Rucks (knee) and Eddie Simpson (abdominal strain).

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Coach Roy74 on AIM

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