Big Ten: Chris Jeske

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

Northwestern senior linebacker Chris Jeske has decided to end his playing career after battling injuries for four seasons. 

Jeske will serve as a student assistant coach this year and remain with the team throughout training camp. A heralded recruit out of Joliet, Ill., Jeske battled back problems that eventually required surgery and also tore his ACL and his meniscus. 

He made it through spring ball and practiced last week before the back problems became too much to overcome. It's a very tough situation for Jeske, who came to Northwestern with high hopes and worked extremely hard to overcome injuries. He appeared in three games last year, mostly on special teams.

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

EVANSTON, Ill. -- The sun was shining, AC/DC had been cranked up and Northwestern players gathered for the always entertaining "board drill" just as I rolled up to the practice field.

What perfect timing.

For those who don't know, the board drill is the ultimate display of testosterone. It calls for a series of offensive and defensive players to line up across from each other, separated by a board. The object is pretty simple: push the other guy back.

Wildcats head coach Pat Fitzgerald, who absolutely loves this drill, determined the winners. Not surprisingly, the defense seemed to have the edge in Thursday's session. As "Thunderstuck" played in the background, cornerbacks Jordan Mabin and Mike Bolden, and defensive tackle Niko Mafuli won their board-drill matchups.

Other thoughts from Northwestern's hyped-up workout:

  • Running back is the team's biggest question after the loss of four-year starter Tyrell Sutton, and junior Stephen Simmons took most of the reps with the first team. Simmons performed well during team drills, showcasing his skills as both a runner and a receiver, much like Sutton did. He caught several screen passes and had a 15-yard touchdown run during the red zone work.
  • Redshirt freshman Alex Daniel is a bit banged up, so sophomore Jeravin Matthews got a lot of work at running back with the second-team offense. Matthews, one of only two true freshmen to see the field last fall, moves over from wide receiver and brings top-end speed to the backfield.
  • Projected starting quarterback Mike Kafka looked good to me, firing several passes to senior Andrew Brewer, the starting slot receiver who might finally be ready to be a No. 1 target. I heard after the workout that Kafka wasn't thrilled with his performance, but I didn't see too many mistakes. He hit Brewer on a deep out route early in team drills and had a touchdown run late in the workout.
  • Quarterback Dan Persa got a lot of work and looked very strong both on throws and as a runner. Persa made a nice throw to Zeke Markshausen on a post route and hit superback Brendan Mitchell for a touchdown during the red zone portion.
  • It's no secret that the defense will be the strength of this team once again this fall. Though All-American candidate Corey Wootton watched from the sideline -- he's recovering from ACL surgery -- several players stood out. Senior safety Brendan Smith recovered a fumble against the second-team offense, and cornerbacks Mabin and Sherrick McManis both broke up passes.
  • Northwestern will be deep in the secondary, and Brian Peters, who was very active Thursday, provides a third option at safety behind Smith and Brad Phillips. Ben Johnson also has generated some buzz at linebacker, as well as Jack DiNardo at defensive tackle.
  • Athletic director Jim Phillips stopped by to chat about a variety of topics. He plans to meet Chicago Cubs chairman Crane Kenney and several architects in the next few weeks at Wrigley Field to determine whether the field is large enough to accommodate a college football game. If so, Phillips said Northwestern definitely will play a late-season game at the Friendly Confines, most likely in 2010 or 2011. He wants to have enough time to promote the game and ensure all the logistics are in place at a stadium that hasn't held a football game since 1970.
  • Phillips also said a new contract/extension for Fitzgerald is "No. 1 on my to-do list." Conversations are under way and going well, so expect something to be finalized before preseason camp in August.
  • Defensive tackle Adam Hahn hobbled onto the field on crutches with a large cast over his right foot. Hahn broke a bone in his foot the first week of spring ball and had surgery. D-line coach Marty Long doesn't expect him to be out long. Defensive tackle Corbin Bryant and Wootton both are making progress following knee injury, with Bryant already starting to jog a bit.
  • The first-team offense: Mike Kafka at quarterback, Stephen Simmons at running back, Andrew Brewer at wide receiver, Sidney Stewart at wide receiver, Charles Brown at wide receiver, Kevin Frymire at wide receiver, Al Netter at left tackle, Doug Bartels at left guard, Ben Burkett at center, Keegan Grant at right guard and Kurt Mattes at right tackle. Desmond Taylor, a candidate to start at right tackle, is out for the spring with an injury. When Northwestern used superbacks, Brendan Mitchell and Josh Rooks got most of the work.
  • The first-team defense (keep in mind several starters are injured): Vince Browne at defensive end, Kevin Watt at defensive end, Jack DiNardo at defensive tackle, Marshall Thomas at defensive tackle, Ben Johnson at linebacker, Nate Williams at linebacker, Chris Jeske at linebacker, Sherrick McManis at cornerback, Jordan Mabin at cornerback, Brendan Smith at safety, Brian Peters at safety.
  • Jeske's work with the first-team defense is notable. He came to Northwestern as a blue-chip recruit but endured recurring back problems that have kept him on the field. Linebacker is the one thin position on the defense, so Jeske could provide a major boost.
  • After a play finished a little too close to where we were standing on the sideline, Fitzgerald ordered all spectators to the bleachers overlooking the practice field. The coach then came over and singled me out, joking that he didn't want to pay ESPN's insurance bill if I went down. Thanks, Fitz.

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

A couple of quick Northwestern notes. The Wildcats' game Saturday night at Duke will be broadcast online by ACC Select. Single-game passes cost $5.95. Here's the link to sign up and the direct link to the game.

Also, Northwestern's injury report is below:

Player Injury Status

David Arnold, S, Knee, Out

Drake Dunsmore, TE , Knee, Out (season)

Kevin Frymire, WR, Ankle, Out

Keegan Grant, G, Ankle, Out

Chris Jeske, LB, Knee, Out

Niko Mafuli, DT, Shoulder, Out

Bryce McNaul, LB, Leg, Out

Grant is a potentially significant loss because Northwestern doesn't have much experience on the offensive line. But right tackle Kurt Mattes didn't appear on the report, meaning he'll likely return after missing the season opener with a sprained knee. Mattes and Desmond Taylor likely will start at right tackle and right guard. The coaches love Arnold at safety, but the redshirt freshman hasn't been able to stay healthy in his career.

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

Northwestern released its injury report for Saturday's opener against Syracuse. The Wildcats have gone to an NFL-style report, which will come out every Thursday during the season. Let's hope other Big Ten teams follow the trend.

Here it is:

  • TE/FB Drake Dunsmore, knee, out for season
  • WR Kevin Frymire, ankle, out for Week 1
  • LB Chris Jeske, knee, out for Week 1
  • DT Niko Mafuli, shoulder, out for Week 1
  • LB Bryce McNaul, leg, out for Week 1
  • WR Jeff Yarbrough, leg, out for Week 1

Dunsmore is the lone starter and the most significant loss among the group, though both McNaul and Yarbrough would provide depth at their positions. Yarbrough, a speedy senior, has been plagued by injuries throughout his career.

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

EVANSTON, Ill. -- Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald addressed several topics in his news conference with reporters at media day this afternoon. 

Here's a sampling:  

  • Like many college teams, Northwestern is adopting an NFL-style injury report this season. Fitzgerald announced that wide receiver Kevin Frymire, safety Scott Lilja and defensive tackle Niko Mafuli all will miss the season opener with injuries. Linebacker Chris Jeske and running back Scott Concannon are doubtful for the game, and wideout Lee Coleman is probable.
  • As the star of Northwestern's Rose Bowl team in 1995, Fitzgerald has made no secret about his desire to return to Pasadena. But when asked to name a team goal for the coming season, Fitzgerald listed a bowl victory. After hearing so much Rose Bowl rhetoric from the coach, I was a little surprised by this.
Was he scaling back his expectations or simply being realistic at a program that hasn't won a bowl game since 1949 [Rose]?
"We do these preseason rankings, what do those mean?" he said. "No one's played a game yet. So that's out of our control. You get to six wins and you don't go to a bowl game even though you're bowl eligible, it's out of your control. So we need to take care of what's in our control. All I know is the bowl tie-ins in the Big Ten are awesome. To win a bowl game, that's something I didn't accomplish when I was here. ... That's a great expectation and hopefully we can do the right things and give ourselves an opportunity. Last year, it only took nine wins to go to the Rose Bowl."
  • Fitzgerald didn't go into great detail, but reading between the lines, it seems as though building unity between players and coaches was a problem at times last year. The Wildcats made communication and camaraderie focal points throughout the offseason.
"We all looked back and reflected back on 2007, there was a reason why we stayed home," he said. "We've had great lines of communication open up between our players and our staff. We've got solid trust built now."
  • Fitzgerald expects the new timing rules in college football to have a significant impact this fall, particularly late in games. But the effects should be minimal at Northwestern, which will operate from the no-huddle on offense.
"We've got the ability to snap it fast," he said. "The rules are what they are. Two out of the last three years, we've changed the timing rules. I'm not a big fan of it. Our fans want to see our players play."
  • This has been said before at Northwestern, but Fitzgerald expects to use the superbacks more this fall. He praised the speed and size of Dunsmore and Rooks and took a friendly jab at junior Mark Woodsum.
"I make fun of him, he's one of the only guys on the team with a neck roll," Fitzgerald said. "He's my kind of guy. Neck rolls are gone in college football now."
  • Northwestern had 96 percent of its players pass the conditioning test at the start of practice, the highest number in recent years.