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Northwestern spring recap

4/14/2015

Northwestern's spring practice was a little different than most teams.

The Wildcats dealt, again, with several injuries that limited some of what they could do. They once again didn't hold a formal spring game, instead opening up their 15th and final practice to the public.

At the conclusion of spring, coach Pat Fitzgerald said only a few starting positions have even been settled. After back-to-back disappointing 5-7 seasons, it seems clear Fitzgerald doesn't want his players feeling too comfortable about anything.

The big question

Who will start at quarterback this fall? The Wildcats held a three-man competition this spring among senior Zack Oliver, sophomore Matt Alviti and redshirt freshman Clayton Thorson. If there was any real separation between the trio, it was hard to tell. "I've liked the way I've seen all three guys compete and progress," Fitzgerald said on Saturday, "and I look forward to seeing the next step as we move forward in the evaluation."

Sounds like this is a competition that will continue into fall camp. Keep a close eye on Thorson; he has a significant experience gap to cover but looked impressive at times this spring.

Positions of strength

Northwestern was hit hard by injuries at receiver and defensive line this spring and has several questions still about the offensive line. But a couple of position groups appear to be in strong shape.

Running back is a deep and talented spot. Justin Jackson, who announced himself as a star last year with a 1,000-yard season as a true freshman, underwent a minor operation shortly after spring drills started. But the Wildcats were still fine there with Warren Long, Solomon Vault and Auston Anderson. The latter two guys are speedsters who could see time at other positions such as slot receiver as the Wildcats seek to get their best playmakers on the field.

The cornerback spot also was locked down this spring, as returning starters Matthew Harris and Nick VanHoose played well. If both can stay healthy this fall, Northwestern should be pretty good in pass coverage.

Spring stars

  • Geoff Mogus: He has started the past two years at guard but spent the spring working out at left tackle. It remains to be seen whether Mogus will stay at tackle or move back to guard this summer, but he was the only offensive lineman whom Fitzgerald singled out as a surefire starter when spring ended.

  • Deonte Gibson and Dean Lowry: The pair of senior defensive ends took some snaps this spring at tackle, in part because of the lack of available bodies there and also as an experiment. They will almost certainly be back at end when the season kicks off, but their work inside this spring could give the Wildcats some flexibility.