Big Ten: Chicago Bears

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March, 23, 2010
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Spring (football) is in the air.

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May, 1, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

"I got a real good chance [to play this fall]," Denard Robinson said. "It's my gut feeling and the coaches have been telling me I have a chance to start."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

EVANSTON, Ill. -- Most offensive coordinators are evaluated according to the plays they call, but Northwestern's Mick McCall would rather be judged on his concepts.

McCall works backward with an offense, starting with the players before moving onto the formations and, eventually, the plays. His conceptual approach is designed to maximize the skills of every player, regardless of position.

So when McCall maps out a pass route, the wide receivers aren't the only ones who learn it.

"It might be a tight end the next time, it might be a running back the next time, it might be the second quarterback on the field, I don't know," he said. "That's why we teach together because we're teaching conceptually. Everybody gets taught everything, but everybody can't do everything. That's where we come up with players, formations, plays."

Fortunately for McCall, who enters his first season as Northwestern's offensive coordinator after coming over from Bowling Green, he inherits a deep and versatile group of skill players.

Northwestern's top two running backs, Tyrell Sutton and Omar Conteh, have combined for 134 receptions and six receiving touchdowns in their careers. Andrew Brewer, a projected starter at slot receiver, started three games as a run-first quarterback in 2006. Drake Dunsmore, the team's starting superback (tight end-fullback hybrid), ranked third on the team in yards per reception among players with at least 10 catches last season. Another starting wide receiver, Eric Peterman, came to Northwestern as a quarterback and can do damage as a rusher.

Those players provide options for McCall, whose offense at Bowling Green isn't a dramatic departure from the shotgun spread Northwestern has used since 2000.

"It definitely makes his job a lot easier when you can put guys at X, Y, Z or H," said Sutton, referring to the receiver spots. "We're all interchangeable. With the concepts that we have, you have to know everything. If you don't know, you ain't playing."

Sutton expects to line up as a receiver more this season, but his rushing ability won't be neglected. Northwestern finished last in the Big Ten in rushing offense in 2007 -- Sutton missed almost six games with a high ankle sprain -- but returns two proven backs.

McCall said he'll consider using two-back formations this fall. Though he's primarily known for mentoring standout quarterbacks Josh Harris and Omar Jacobs at Bowling Green, the coach also has a history with the run game.

"You ever heard of P.J. Pope?" Sutton said, referring to the Chicago Bears reserve. "[McCall has] had running backs, too. He was a running back [briefly with the Detroit Lions]. I just found that out. So he knows what he's doing."

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