Big Ten: Doug Bartels
A few notes and observations:
- Sophomore Mike Trumpy is listed as the starting running back, a position where Northwestern needs much more production in 2011. Coordinator Mick McCall wanted a No. 1 back to emerge this spring, and Trumpy really seems like the best option. He played better as the 2010 season went along before fracturing his wrist against Illinois. Senior Jacob Schmidt and sophomore Adonis Smith are listed as co-backups. I'm a little surprised not to see Tyris Jones' name on the two-deep.
- Although the reserve quarterbacks took all the reps this spring, there's still no answer about who will back up Dan Persa this fall. Kain Colter, Trevor Siemian and Evan Watkins all are listed as co-backups. Colter would be my choice, but he still has to prove more to the staff.
- Receivers Charles Brown and Mike Jensen both helped their cause this spring. Brown is listed as a starter with Jensen as his backup. Sophomore Rashad Lawrence, the most impressive of the three true freshmen wideouts who played in 2010, also is listed as a starter.
- Guard Doug Bartels, who missed spring ball following shoulder surgery, will compete with Neal Deiters for a starting job this summer. Bartels started every game in 2009 and the first three last fall.
- Defensive linemen Tyler Scott and Niko Mafuli both drew praise from the coaches this spring, and both players now are listed as co-starters at their respective positions. Scott will compete with returning starter Kevin Watt, while Mafuli and Brian Arnfelt will compete to fill a vacancy.
- As expected, Jervain Matthews is listed as a starting cornerback, a job he secured this spring. Redshirt freshman Ibraheim Campbell moved into a backup role after impressing the staff in practice.
- The competition at kicker will continue into the fall -- and possibly all the way until game week -- as Jeff Budzien and Steve Flaherty are listed as co-starters.
Northwestern also announced its Sept. 17 game at Army will kick off at 3:30 p.m. ET and be televised by CBS Sports Network.
But when Northwestern hits the practice field Monday for the first of 15 spring workouts, Fitzgerald might remind the players about their most recent performances. Needless to say, no one was pleased with the way the Wildcats wrapped up the 2010 season.
"The way we finished was completely and totally unacceptable, and that’s on all of us," Fitzgerald told ESPN.com on Monday. "If we’re going to fix it, we have to be the catalysts to do that."
Northwestern dropped its final three games by a combined score of 163-88. Quarterback Dan Persa missed the closing stretch after rupturing his Achilles' tendon in a Nov. 13 win against Iowa. Persa's injury seemed to rattle the Wildcats, who also were banged up on defense.
Was there an explanation for the late collapse?
"Nothing other than excuses," Fitzgerald said. "We’ve got to play better, we’ve got to coach better, we’ve got to play with a better attitude. We play team football here and we didn’t do a very good job of that. When we turned it over, we didn’t get off the field. When we did go down and score, we didn’t get a big stop we needed. And when we got a big stop, maybe we went three-and-out.
"We've got to pick each other up."
You always hear about competition in spring ball, but Northwestern's poor finish underscores the need to open up pretty much every job.
Fitzgerald notes the Wildcats' two-deep is loaded with players who have logged ample time in games. Several projected starters will miss part of all of spring ball -- Persa, linebacker Bryce McNaul, defensive tackle Jack DiNardo, guard Doug Bartels -- so there's opportunities everywhere.
A few positions to watch:
- Defensive back: Northwestern needs a second starter to join Jordan Mabin, not to mention some safety help. Jeravin Matthews, a special teams standout who has struggled to find a permanent position, will compete for time at cornerback. "He’s always been spectacular in the kicking game for us, and he sees an opportunity," Fitzgerald said.
- Running back: Mike Trumpy is expected to participate in all of spring ball after missing the final two games of last season with a fractured wrist. He'll wear a cast on the wrist for the spring and compete alongside rising sophomore Adonis Smith.
- Linebacker: The Wildcats must replace two starters and the third, McNaul, will miss the spring following offseason surgery. Hopes are high for Roderick Goodlow, who missed all of last season with a knee injury but has been going through winter workouts. Goodlow was one of just three true freshmen to see the field in 2009. "It’s a heck of a free-agent pickup," Fitzgerald said.
- Backup quarterback: With Persa limited, the coaching staff will turn its attention to Evan Watkins, Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian as they compete for the backup job this spring. Watkins boasts the most experience but Colter provided a spark in the bowl game.
Northwestern wraps up spring ball April 16 with its spring game.
- G Doug Bartels, shoulder
- RB Scott Concannon, hip
- LB Roderick Goodlow, knee (out for season)
- OL Evan Luxenburg, knee
- RB Jacob Schmidt, ankle
Illini Mike from Chicago writes: Hey Adam, I have a divisional alignment question. I know a lot of the focus centers on what rivalries teams get to keep, is there any emphasis on the rivalries that will be lost. As an Illinois fan I am worried as most alignment scenarios leave us with a lack of good divisional rivals. I have a feeling we will be saying goodbye to geographic rivals such as Indiana and Purdue, trophy rival Ohio State, and semi-rival Michigan (great recent games in 99, 00, 01, 07-09 as well as historical games). All of these I would rank ahead of our so called in-state rival Northwestern, who we will mostly likely end up in a division with along with other good but not great rivalries. I can't help but feel that whatever happens, Illinois will be coming out the big loser of the Big 10. Do you see another team with this big of an issue?
Adam Rittenberg: I'm worried about Illinois, too, Mike, as several of those rivalries could be lost in the alignment shuffle. It's one of the reasons why I eliminated the Illinois-Northwestern rivalry in my Big Ten divisions proposal. In my plan, Illinois would be in the same division with both Ohio State and Michigan, and would play Indiana as a protected crossover every year. You would lose the Northwestern and Purdue games, but I think most Illinois fans could live with that scenario. Another team I worry about is Minnesota. The Gophers have longstanding rivalries with both Wisconsin and Iowa, but Minnesota hasn't performed nearly as well since 1993, the period the Big Ten will use to determine divisions. Will the Big Ten preserve long-term history or aim to create sexier matchups, especially for television, the driving force for college football? It'll be interesting to see what they decide.
Anthony from Cleveland writes: Adam, my fiance is in the midst of planning our wedding for next fall and I am trying to set the date so it won't conflict with Ohio State games (for my guests sake, I swear). I was wondering how much you thought the Ohio State schedule was subject to change based upon the addition of Nebraska in 2011? I was going to schedule the wedding for September 24 (OSU's open date) but now I don't know if that will remain the open date. Please let me know your thoughts. Many Thanks,For Better or Buckeyes in Cleveland.
Adam Rittenberg: Wow, that's dedication Anthony! I told my then-fiancée that we couldn't get married in the fall, which she wasn't happy about, but it sounds like you guys are past that point. You won't have to worry about nine conference games in 2011, as that won't take place until 2012 at the very earliest and more likely 2014 or 2015. But the Big Ten could shuffle the open dates as it tries to integrate Nebraska. I don't want to tell you to go ahead and set your date and have to change it later. I'd sit tight for a few more weeks, and then you'll know for sure what Ohio State's schedule will look like.
Luke from Philadelphia writes: Hey, Adam - I just read your blog regarding SI's predictions for the Big 10. When I read your thoughts, I agreed totally - PSU belongs at 19 given the question marks heading into the season. But then I read SI's predictions for the Lions' schedule (9-3, 6-2) and this did not ring true. I think there are MAJOR question marks for PSU, so much so that even 9-3 seems generous to me. 8-4 seems WAY more likely. I know it's just 1 game diff, but quality of bowls is decided thusly. I am counting on losses at Bama, Iowa, and OSU. But I am not optimistic about MSU either. And given the QB play in the Blue/White game, I wouldn't be totally shocked by a loss at the Gophers either - your blog has convinced me that they are going to be tough this year! Am I being realistic or can you talk sense into me??
Adam Rittenberg: Luke, let me first say that being realistic is a good thing, and it's a breath of fresh air to see as someone who deals with a ton of delusional fans. You're spot on about Penn State hovering in that 9-4 or 8-4 range this season. Those three road games against preseason top 10 foes won't be easy, and Penn State could stumble again in Big Ten play. Minnesota on the road could be tough, but Penn State's defense should be too much for the Gophers. I'm actually looking at some of the home dates (Michigan State, Northwestern, Michigan) as potentially tricky for the Lions. The good news is even at 8-4, Penn State would almost certainly play on Jan. 1 because of the Big Ten's new bowl lineup.
Tom from Iowa City, Iowa, writes: Great Blog Adam but, who's your wardrobe consultant? My wife saw you and said "isn't he married"? Anyway, could you please elucidate the Rich Rod situation with the NCAA? If he is found in violation and get's restrictions, even if he wins nine games this year, do you think he'll keep his job?
Adam Rittenberg: Damn, I thought I was dressing better! I certainly out-GQ-ed colleague Mark Schlabach at Big Ten media days. Plus, Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald was giving me grief for showing up at the school's media day in a shirt and tie. I can't win! ... Anyway, Rich Rodriguez's primary concern with the NCAA is the dreaded show-cause penalty, which brings sanctions against individuals found to have committed NCAA violations. These sanctions can prohibit them from recruiting or coaching without approval from the Committee on Infractions for a set period of time. This is very bad, and Rodriguez needs to be concerned because he's being investigated at both Michigan and West Virginia. If the Committee on Infractions finds him non-compliant in both cases, it could issue a severe show-cause penalty. I don't think this is likely and Rodriguez's fate remains tied to wins and losses on the field this fall, but it's something to consider.
Erik from Palatine, Ill., writes: I'm a die-hard Northwestern fan, and I'm curious about the Ward and Dieters battle. They are both competing for a right tackle spot? Who will be the guard then? I thought Ward was going to be our Tackle and Dieters our guard (even though I didn't understand why Dieters, who won awards last year, was being replaced).I'd like to know your thoughts if you have a second.
Adam Rittenberg: It surprised me, too, when offensive line coach Adam Cushing listed Neal Dieters as Patrick Ward's primary competition at right tackle. But that's coming directly from the source. Cushing said there are three candidates -- Doug Bartels, Keenan Grant and Brian Mulroe -- competing for the two starting guard spots. Obviously, Bartels and Grant both have extensive starting experience, but Northwestern really likes its depth up front and wants the competition to continue for a while.
Brian from Madison, Wis., writes: Adam,It's been about two months since you came out with your plan for alignment. I'm curious whether you've changed your mind on any of the decisions you made while creating the plan. It has some strengths and some clear weaknesses. I also wonder if you have any thoughts on the likelihood of the various types of division plans (maybe giving odds to the different ideas happening, i.e. Michigan OSU split up, PSU going west, Wisconsin-Iowa-Minnesota being split up, etc.). I think division alignment is still a hot topic, might be fun to see if your opinions have changed any.
Adam Rittenberg: Brian, I'm still comfortable with my plan, but I'm definitely keeping an open mind about what others have to say. While I still don't agree Ohio State and Michigan should be in opposite divisions, I see the potential upside and how it could benefit the league (I also see the drawbacks). I don't have a problem with Penn State being in the same division as some of the "western" teams, namely Nebraska and Iowa, because those games would be amazing to see every year. My philosophy on this is to leave geography out of it and really try to do what's best for the Big Ten brand, which must be driven by television exposure. I still struggle with the Wisconsin-Minnesota-Iowa bloc, as I do think the league would benefit from some type of split, even if those schools wouldn't as much.
- Fitzgerald confirmed that the team will practice Aug. 23 at Naval Station Great Lakes, the U.S. Navy's headquarters for training. Details are coming, but check out my post earlier this summer for more about the event. Great Lakes used to be a powerhouse in college football, and there are a ton of football connections there. The team will leave its off-site training camp in Kenosha, Wis., and practice at Great Lakes before returning to Evanston the night of the 23rd. "Hopefully, a great tradition is going to be started," Fitzgerald said.
- I'll have more on All-Big Ten kicker Stefan Demos in the coming days, but his workload will be lighter this fall as Brandon Williams has emerged as a solid option at punter. Demos, who has battled hip problems, handled field goals, kickoffs and punting last season and also punted in 2007 and 2008. Although his rugby style worked at times, all involved are pleased to see Williams emerge. "Nobody wants me out there punting any more, that's for sure," Demos said. "Including me. ... I'm sure [Fitzgerald] is tired of being called the worst special-teams coach ever because he doesn't have a punter."
- Speaking of special teams, true freshman Venric Mark already is marking his mark on punt returns. Although safety Hunter Bates, cornerback Jordan Mabin, wide receiver Charles Brown and another freshman, receiver Tony Jones, are also in the mix, I'd be surprised if Mark wasn't the starter. Stephen Simmons and Jacob Schmidt will continue to handle kickoff returns, Fitzgerald said.
- Northwestern is much healthier now than it was a year ago and has been able to practice at a good clip. The team's slow start to 2009 could be attributed in part to being limited in preseason camp. "This will be my fifth year [as head coach], and this is the best-conditioned team we've had," Fitzgerald said. "We've pushed the tempo. We go six-minute periods, and we went in such a quick tempo, we finished with two and a half minutes left in our second set of team [drills]. That's going at it, especially with where the weather was at. ... It puts us in a position maybe to be a little more accelerated than we've been in the past." Fitzgerald added that the team's speed has been upgraded through recruiting.
- The secondary loses three multiyear starters but has two spots locked up with cornerback Jordan Mabin and safety Brian Peters. Justan Vaughn, Demetrius Dugar and Mike Bolden will compete at the other corner spot, while Jared Carpenter and David Arnold are the candidates to line up next to Peters. Other position battles include outside linebacker (Bryce McNaul and Ben Johnson), right tackle (Patrick Ward and Neal Deiters) and offensive guard, where Doug Bartels, Keenan Grant and Brian Mulroe are competing for two starting spots.
- The recent heat and humidity in northern Illinois is helping Northwestern prepare for nonconference road games in balmy Nashville (at Vanderbilt) and Houston (at Rice). Fitzgerald also said the team uses a service for potential hot-weather games that allows players to "plug in" to an air-conditioning unit on the sideline that provides cool air underneath their shoulder pads. Northwestern used the service for its game inside the Carrier Dome at Syracuse last September and at the Outback Bowl in Tampa on Jan. 1.
What's new: Fitzgerald made no staff changes, but Northwestern has another new starting quarterback, as Dan Persa takes over for All-Big Ten standout Mike Kafka. The Wildcats also have a new-look secondary after losing three starters, including star cornerback Sherrick McManis. Defensive line coach Marty Long is on the field after missing the Outback Bowl because of an illness.
Sidelined: All five players who missed spring practice, including superback Drake Dunsmore and guards Doug Bartels and Keenan Grant, are expected to be ready for camp. Star linebacker Quentin Davie missed most of the spring with a foot injury, but is 100 percent for practice.
Key battle: Northwestern needs a starting running back after its ground game was grounded in 2009, and the competition resumes today. Sophomore Arby Fields is the frontrunner to win the job, but he'll continue to be pushed by Stephen Simmons, Scott Concannon and others. Northwestern is pretty set at two secondary spots with safety Brian Peters and cornerback Jordan Mabin, but the other two positions need to be settled in camp.
New on the scene: The Wildcats lose two starting receivers and might look to freshmen Rashad Lawrence, Tony Jones and Jimmy Hall to step up. Adonis Smith could be a factor at running back if Fields can't lock down the top job. Several freshmen should see time right away on special teams, including return specialist Venric Mark.
Time to step up: All five starters return along the offensive line, and Northwestern should have its most depth in recent memory after some strong recruiting. There's simply no excuse for the team to struggle in the run game any longer. Northwestern annually produced 1,000-yard rushers under the late Randy Walker, who went out of his way to challenge the offensive line and its coach in practice. Fitzgerald needs to demand the same accountability from a group that should not only protect Persa, but create rushing lanes.
Quotable: "We have 17 wins over the last few years. And that foundation of success, I think, has provided us with motivation to take the next step. And what is that next step? First and foremost, it's going to be to go to a bowl game for three straight years, something that never happened in our program before. It all happens because we believe we've got great players." -- head coach Pat Fitzgerald
A few nuggets of note:
- Sophomore Arby Fields is listed as the starting running back ahead of junior Jacob Schmidt. Fields, the team's leading rusher last year, had a good spring but missed all the spring scrimmages because he was playing baseball. I'd be somewhat surprised if he doesn't start the opener Sept. 4 at Vanderbilt.
- The Wildcats lose their top two wideouts from 2009, and they list Jeremy Ebert, Sidney Stewart and Demetrius Fields as the projected starters coming out of the spring. Ebert figures to be the No. 1 target, though NU needs to develop more depth.
- All five starters return on the offensive line, but sophomore Patrick Ward, who didn't start last year, is listed as the top right tackle. Also, Brian Mulroe appears as the starting left guard ahead of Keenan Grant, while Doug Bartels and Neal Dieters are listed as co-starters at right guard. Translation: there will be ongoing competition at both guard spots.
- Linebackers Quentin Davie and Nate Williams are set as starters, and Ben Johnson and Bryce McNaul are listed as co-starters in the third spot. McNaul had a nice spring and Johnson started early last season and brings some good athleticism, so this will be an interesting position battle to watch.
- Northwestern moved starting linebacker David Arnold to safety to fill a need there, but Jared Carpenter is listed ahead of Arnold on the depth chart. Another good battle brewing there opposite Brian Peters.
- Starting placekicker Stefan Demos is listed as a co-starter at punter with Brandon Williams. Northwestern really would be best served if Williams can win that job and lighten the load on Demos.
- Jordan Mabin and Hunter Bates are the two options at punt returner, a weak spot for NU in recent years. Incoming freshman Venric Mark also could compete here.
Spring football, 70-degree temps and no clouds in the sky = a winning combination.
A few thoughts from Northwestern's practice:
- Quarterback Dan Persa looked sharp for the most part, especially during the 7-on-7 portion of practice. He hit Jeremy Ebert on a deep post route and made several strong throws over the middle. He had an interception during team drills, as safety Jared Carpenter recorded the pick off of a tipped ball. But otherwise, Persa performed well. He also showed good leadership for a projected starter, checking in with wide receiver Lee Coleman after some confusion on a route.
- Joining Persa with the first-team offense were running back Arby Fields, Ebert, Coleman, wideout Sidney Stewart and superback Josh Rooks. Starting superback Drake Dunsmore is out for the spring following shoulder surgery, and he actually had a follow-up shoulder procedure today. So Rooks is getting a lot of work.
- Ebert's surgically repaired hip limited him throughout the 2009 season, but he should be a major factor for Northwestern this fall. The junior, who likely will be Persa's top option at wide receiver, made several receptions Thursday and had a nice gain on an end around.
- As 2009 All-Big Ten cornerback Sherrick McManis watched from the sideline, the men vying to replace him this fall looked good. Junior Mike Bolden recorded several pass breakups and sophomore Demetrius Dugar had a leaping interception of an Evan Watkins pass.
- Top linebackers Quentin Davie (foot, out for a few days) and Nate Williams (shoulder surgery, out for the spring) aren't practicing right now, but I was impressed with sophomore Roderick Goodlow, who recorded a tackle for loss and several other good plays. Redshirt freshman linebacker Tim Riley is also generating some buzz this spring.
- Starting safety Brian Peters sat out practice with a hamstring injury, so Carpenter and projected starter David Arnold, a converted linebacker, got most of the reps at safety.
- It was great to see defensive line coach Marty Long jogging around the practice field. Long underwent surgery in December to remove a growth and missed the Outback Bowl, but he's back to 100 percent. His NU predecessor Eric Washington, now the defensive line coach for the Chicago Bears, was in attendance at Thursday's practice.
- The first-team offensive line had Al Netter at left tackle, Brian Mulroe at left guard, Ben Burkett at center, Neil Dieters at right guard and Patrick Ward at right tackle. Don't be surprised if this is the starting line entering the fall, as Ward, the team's top recruit in 2009, has been impressive. The most competitive position battle takes place at right guard between the 6-foot-8 Dieters and junior Doug Bartels.
- Fields took all of the reps with the first-team offense and had a few nice runs, while Stephen Simmons and Scott Concannon worked with the second team. Sophomore Tyris Jones also got quite a few reps at running back.
- As expected, Wisconsin's athletic board approved a $3 increase in football ticket prices, Andy Baggott writes in the Wisconsin State Journal. An excellent breakdown of the reasoning behind the increase from Tom Mulhern of the State Journal.
- Offensive linemen Doug Bartels (Northwestern) and Jeff Allen (Illinois) and safety Jordan Kovacs (Michigan) make SI.com's All Two-Star (and fewer) team.
- Rich Rodriguez reiterates his pledge to Michigan at a pep rally Sunday, annarbor.com's Dave Birkett writes. More quotes from RichRod and several former Michigan players, Mark Synder writes in the Detroit Free Press.
- Purdue linebacker Jason Werner received one more chance in football, and he plans to capitalize on it, Mike Carmin writes in The (Lafayette) Journal and Courier.
- Former Penn State quarterback Anthony Morelli is giving the NFL another shot two years after being cut by Arizona, The Associated Press' Michael Marot writes.
- The Des Moines Register's Sean Keeler breaks down a possible 14-team Big Ten with new additions Pitt, Missouri and Nebraska.
- Michigan State and Michigan picked up 2011 commitments during the weekend from Onjae Miller and Shawn Conway, respectively.
Northwestern has issued its official injury report for Saturday's game at No. 4 Iowa (ESPN, noon ET).
- RB Alex Daniel, ankle (out for season)
- LB Ben Johnson, leg
- S Brendan Smith, thumb
- OL Desmond Taylor, shoulder
The big news is here no Mike Kafka. The Wildcats starting quarterback doesn't appear on the report despite leaving last week's loss to Penn State with a pulled left hamstring. Kafka didn't practice a ton this week, but the Big Ten passing leader is expected to give it a go against the Hawkeyes. Both Kafka and head coach Pat Fitzgerald said Monday that Kafka will play. Still, I'd expect backup quarterback Dan Persa to get a decent amount of snaps on Saturday. Kafka's mobility likely will be limited, and Persa can spark the option attack. The other notable absence from the report is cornerback Sherrick McManis, who has battled leg problems. Northwestern will need McManis, its top cover man, against Iowa's talented wide receivers. Smith will be missed in the secondary, and Brian Peters will get the start opposite Brad Phillips. Taylor appeared as a co-starter at right guard on this week's depth chart, but Doug Bartels will get the start.
The Big Ten was well represented on the ESPN The Magazine Academic All-District teams, presented today by the College Sports Information Directors of America (COSIDA). It's especially nice to see several of the league's star players succeeding in the classroom.
Here's the breakdown by school of who made the teams, as well as their GPAs and majors:
- G Jon Asamoah, 3.82, community health
- G Julian Vandervelde, 3.47, religious studies/English
- QB Ben Chappell, 3.7, accounting
- RB Trea Burgess, 3.47, telecommunications
- LS Brandon Bugg, 3.62, Master's of business administration
- P Zoltan Mesko, 3.65, business administration (marketing & finance)
- WR Jon Conover, 3.54, political science
- WR Blair White, 3.89, human biology
- RB Andrew Hawken, 3.44, supply chain management
- LB Adam Decker, 3.62, finance
- WR Eric Decker, 3.41, business and marketing education
- C Jeff Tow-Arnett, 3.79, business and marketing education
- WR Zeke Markshausen, 3.46, mechanical engineering and design & innovation
- G Doug Bartels, 3.45, anthropology (pre-med)
- K Stefan Demos, 3.49, communication studies
- RB Marcus Williams, 3.86, physical therapy
- OL Bryant Browning, 3.33, marketing
- OL Andrew Moses, 3.86, political science
- DT Todd Denlinger, 3.3, construction systems management
- OL Andrew Pitz, 3.93, journalism/telecommunications
- LB Josh Hull, 3.56, environmental systems engineering
- C Stefen Wisniewski, 3.89, secondary education
- P Jeremy Boone, 3.33, elementary education
- LB Joe Holland, 4.0, movement & sports science
- DE Ryan Kerrigan, 3.38, math education
- P Brad Nortman, 3.64, finance
Posted by ESPN.com'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.