Big Ten: Rasheed Ward

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

KENOSHA, Wis. -- Midway through a recent practice, Northwestern junior wide receiver Sidney Stewart turned toward fellow wideout Andrew Brewer and provided a reminder.

"Nobody knows you, Brew," Stewart told Brewer. "Who are you, dawg?"

To be clear, Stewart wasn't experiencing memory loss from taking too many hits in practice. He knows exactly who Brewer is.

But nobody else does.

Northwestern must replace three multiyear starters at wide receiver this season, and the next group in consists mainly of players unknown outside the team's football complex.

Brewer might be the most recognizable as a former starting quarterback for NU, and Stewart and sophomore Jeremy Ebert combined for 32 receptions and three touchdowns last season. But most preseason prognosticators, including yours truly, point to what Northwestern has lost at receiver. Eric Peterman, Ross Lane and Rasheed Ward combined for 1,903 receiving yards 170 receptions and 12 touchdowns.

Last week at football media day, Wildcats head coach Pat Fitzgerald told reporters, "On offense, none of you know any of our guys' names so I'll spare it for now."

He has relayed a similar message to the players themselves.

"We're anonymous," Stewart said Monday at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, site of Northwestern's off-campus training camp. "Unknown, unseen, unheard. Just a lot of uns. We called it U-cubed. We know there's a lot of talk about last year's group of guys. They were a great group of seniors.

"We knew that we were going to be unknown, unseen and unproven. Right now, it's our turn."

Stewart makes sure to motivate himself and his fellow wideouts during practices by telling them how unheralded they are. It has helped bond the group and create "a team within a team."

"We've got to realize we're not like everybody else," Stewart said. "There's a lot of people out here who will get talked about in a positive way. And we, unfortunately, if it's not a negative light, then we're not talked about at all.

"We like to keep that in the forefront of our minds, keep striving to be the best we can be."

Big Ten position rankings: WR/TE

August, 10, 2009
8/10/09
4:30
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The preseason position rankings march on with the wide receivers and tight ends.

The Big Ten wasn't known for its air show last year, as only Illinois ranked among the top 25 nationally in pass offense. But most would agree the league boasts two of the nation's elite wide receivers in Illinois' Arrelious Benn and Minnesota's Eric Decker, as well as a good crop of tight ends led by Wisconsin's Garrett Graham. The overall landscape at wideout/tight end should improve this fall.

1. Illinois -- An easy choice for the top spot as Illinois boasts by far the league's best crop of wide receivers. Benn aims for a second consecutive 1,000-yard receiving season and hopes to increase his touchdowns total. Florida transfer Jarred Fayson enters the mix and should make a major impact along with Jeff Cumberland. Senior tight end Michael Hoomanawanui is one of the league's more underrated players.

2. Minnesota -- Decker certainly headlines the group and will finish his career as arguably the most decorated wide receiver in team history. But he's not alone. Junior college stud Hayo Carpenter arrives and will play alongside Brandon Green, Ben Kuznia, Da'Jon McKnight and Troy Stoudermire, who should play a much bigger role in the passing game after working more at receiver this spring.

3. Michigan State -- The Spartans return virtually everyone from a receiving corps that had some decent moments last fall. Blair White and Mark Dell both have All-Big Ten potential, and the team will look for more production from Keshawn Martin and B.J. Cunningham. The real story here is the depth at tight end. No Big Ten team boasts more as Charlie Gantt and Clemson transfer Brian Linthicum lead the way.

4. Wisconsin -- Much like Michigan State, Wisconsin brings back the core from a group that endured ups and downs in 2008. Graham enters the fall as the Big Ten's premier tight end and has Lance Kendricks and Mickey Turner behind him. The improvement at wide receiver should be the biggest difference for Wisconsin. Nick Toon could be a star this fall, and Kyle Jefferson, Isaac Anderson and David Gilreath all return. 

5.  Ohio State -- The Brians (Robiskie and Hartline) are gone, but Ohio State could be more explosive at wide receiver this season. Though Ray Small's academic situation creates some uneasiness, DeVier Posey and Dane Sanzenbacher form a nice 1-2 punch. Ohio State should be better at the tight end position with the Jakes (Ballard and Stoneburner).

6. Michigan -- This group didn't have much of a chance to shine last fall, but things should be different in 2009. The big-play potential is there with Martavious Odoms, Greg Mathews and Darryl Stonum, and redshirt freshman Roy Roundtree had a solid spring. Tight end Kevin Koger could be a very effective weapon if Michigan throws to him more. 

7. Iowa -- There are some question marks here, namely Tony Moeaki's health and Derrell Johnson-Koulianos' practice performance, but it wouldn't surprise me if Iowa climbed the list. Moeaki could bring a huge spark at tight end after the loss of Brandon Myers. Johnson-Koulianos will be motivated after his depth-chart demotion, and converted quarterback Marvin McNutt has impressed the coaches.  

8. Penn State -- I'm sure I'll hear it from Nittany Nation (as I usually do), but the loss of three multiyear starters takes a pretty big toll. It wouldn't shock me one bit if Derek Moye, Graham Zug, Brett Brackett and Chaz Powell don't miss a beat, but I need to see them excel in more featured roles. Tight end Andrew Quarless has tons of talent but needs to put it all together this fall.

9. Purdue -- The Boilers usually find a way to succeed at wide receiver, but they lose a lot in Greg Orton, Desmond Tardy and running back Kory Sheets, an excellent pass-catcher. Keith Smith steps into the No. 1 spot after recording 49 receptions last fall, but he'll need help from Aaron Valentin, converted cornerback Royce Adams and junior college import Keith Carlos. Purdue should be much better at tight end as Kyle Adams returns. 

10. Northwestern -- The program needs to prove it can reload after losing three multiyear starters (Eric Peterman, Ross Lane, Rasheed Ward). Northwestern has had high hopes for converted quarterback Andrew Brewer, but he's struggled to stay healthy. The Wildcats will lean on Brewer, junior Sidney Stewart and sophomore Jeremy Ebert, who performed well last fall. The superback position might finally be featured as Drake Dunsmore returns from a knee injury.

11. Indiana -- Last year's leading receiver (Ray Fisher) likely will start at cornerback, while the man expected to be the No. 1 (Kellen Lewis) was dismissed after spring ball. There are some major questions here, but you've got to like Indiana's young wideouts Damarlo Belcher and Tandon Doss. Sophomore tight end Max Dedmond could be a player to watch this fall.  

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Biggest reason for hope -- Depth in the secondary

Not long ago, Northwestern's secondary was one of the weakest units in the Big Ten. Heading into 2009, it appears to be one of the league's strongest groups. All four starters return, led by safeties Brad Phillips and Brendan Smith, who combined for 191 tackles and five interceptions last season, including Smith's game-winning return against Minnesota. The Wildcats go two and three deep at every position and boast two aggressive corners in Sherrick McManis and Jordan Mabin. The defense as a whole should be Northwestern's strength this fall, and the secondary headlines the unit.

Biggest reason for concern -- Losses at the offensive skill positions

To truly elevate its profile in the Big Ten, Northwestern must show it can survive losses of multiyear starters at key offensive positions. This season provides a major test as the Wildcats lose a three-year starter at quarterback (C.J. Bacher), a four-year starter at running back (Tyrell Sutton) and three multiyear starters at wide receiver (Eric Peterman, Ross Lane and Rasheed Ward). In the past, these losses have signaled a drop-off for a program that has reached consecutive bowl games just once before (1995-96). Northwestern needs quarterback Mike Kafka and others to step up and continue the momentum it generated last season.

Northwestern spring wrap

May, 6, 2009
5/06/09
9:20
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Northwestern Wildcats

2008 overall record: 9-4

2008 conference record: 5-3

Returning starters

Offense: 5; Defense: 8; Special teams: 1

Top returners

LT Al Netter, C Ben Burkett, DE Corey Wootton, S Brad Phillips, S Brendan Smith, CB Sherrick McManis, LB Quentin Davie

Key losses

QB C.J. Bacher, RB Tyrell Sutton, WR Eric Peterman, WR Ross Lane, WR Rasheed Ward, DT John Gill, LB Prince Kwateng, LB Malcolm Arrington

2008 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Tyrell Sutton (890 yds)
Passing: C.J. Bacher (2,432 yds)
Receiving: Eric Peterman (737 yds)
Tackles: Brad Phillips* (109)
Sacks: Corey Wootton* (10)
Interceptions: Jordan Mabin and Brad Phillips* (3)

2009 Schedule
Sept. 5 Towson
Sept. 12 Eastern Michigan
Sept. 19 at Syracuse
Sept. 26 Minnesota
Oct. 3 at Purdue
Oct. 10 Miami (Ohio)
Oct. 17 at Michigan State
Oct. 24 Indiana
Oct. 31 Penn State
Nov. 7 at Iowa
Nov. 14 at Illinois
Nov. 21 Wisconsin

Spring answers

1. Matthews impresses -- The competition at running back remains open entering the summer, but speedy sophomore Jeravin Matthews made a strong push this spring. One of only two true freshmen to see the field last fall, Matthews moved from wide receiver to running back and brings top-end speed to the backfield. He had a game-high 90 yards and a touchdown in the spring scrimmage.

2. Backers set -- Northwestern left the spring with its starting linebacking corps set. Middle linebacker Nate Williams and strong side backer Quentin Davie were likely starters following the 2008 season, and Ben Johnson emerged at the weak-side spot in practice. Johnson has impressed head coach Pat Fitzgerald with his speed on the outside.

3. O-line develops -- With several skill positions up in the air, Northwestern will lean on a line that returns four starters. Left tackle Al Netter and center Ben Burkett anchor the group after turning in solid performances this spring. Northwestern has recruited better to offensive line than any other position, and several redshirt freshmen (Neal Deiters, Brian Mulroe, Nick Adamle) will provide depth.

Fall questions

1. Wootton's health -- All eyes will be on All-Big Ten defensive end Corey Wootton this summer as he returns from a torn ACL. Reports on Wootton's rehab are promising, but there's no certainty he will return to the form he showed last season. Wootton projects as a first-round draft pick if healthy, and Northwestern needs him to anchor the pass rush in 2009.

2. Quarterback competence -- Mike Kafka has proven himself as a runner, but his consistency as a passer remains a question entering the summer. Kafka has a so-so spring and still must improve on the short to intermediate routes that spur Northwestern's offense. Coordinator Mick McCall has a good track record of developing quarterbacks, but both Kafka and backup Dan Persa need to make a jump this summer.

3. Receiver rotation -- The wide receiver depth chart is written in pencil at this point, and several spots might not be settled until the Sept. 5 opener. Andrew Brewer seemed better suited to the outside receiver spot this spring, but Northwestern will need another option or two to emerge inside alongside Jeremy Ebert, who returns from a hip injury.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The skill positions will top Pat Fitzgerald's wish list as the Northwestern head coach wraps up a small recruiting class on the heels of a 9-4 season.

Northwestern loses its starting quarterback (C.J. Bacher), its top two running backs (Tyrell Sutton and Omar Conteh) and its top three wide receivers (Eric Peterman, Rasheed Ward and Ross Lane). Mike Kafka steps in at quarterback, but he'll be a senior. The Wildcats need another capable signal caller for 2010, and they think they've found one in commit Evan Watkins.

Running back will be the team's biggest need next fall, and the recruiting class could help. Sutton arrived four years ago as a true freshman and rushed for nearly 1,500 yards. Though undersized rising junior Stephen Simmons did a nice job in relief of Sutton this fall, Northwestern needs to stock up in the backfield.

The Wildcats return some capable possession-type wide receivers (Jeremy Ebert, Andrew Brewer), but adding a player who can stretch the field would be a big plus in this class.

On the defensive side, linebacker likely will be the top priority, as Northwestern loses two starters (Malcolm Arrington and Prince Kwateng). Fitzgerald has always recruited well to his former position and will look to add there. The defensive line loses two starters and another (star end Corey Wootton) after the 2009 season, so building depth up front is vital.

Northwestern also loses kicker Amado Villarreal, a two-year starter, and will award a scholarship to incoming recruit Jeff Budzien.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The Big Ten probably wants to forget this postseason after going 1-6 in bowls. But several players stood out, even in defeat, and they deserve recognition. Let's hand out helmet stickers for the final time this season, beginning with the one Big Ten team (Iowa) that actually won its bowl.

Iowa running back Shonn Greene -- Playing in what would be his final collegiate game, the Hawkeyes' junior went out with a flourish, racking up 121 rushing yards and three touchdowns against South Carolina in the Outback Bowl. Greene eclipsed 100 rushing yards in all 13 games and set a single-season school rushing record with 1,850 yards.

Iowa strong safety Tyler Sash -- South Carolina was in a giving mood (five turnovers), and Sash capitalized with two interceptions, raising his season total to five. Sash, a redshirt freshman who became one of the team's top playmakers, picked off Stephen Garcia's first pass of the game and had interception returns of 45 and 29 yards.

Iowa cornerback Bradley Fletcher -- The senior recorded an interception and a forced fumble in his final game in a Hawkeyes uniform. With Iowa up 14-0, Fletcher squashed any chance of a South Carolina rally by intercepting a Garcia pass in the end zone for a touchback. He also forced a fumble on South Carolina's first play of the second half.

Ohio State quarterback Todd Boeckman -- He hadn't taken significant snaps since September but gave Ohio State a big lift in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl against Texas. The offense was sputtering until Boeckman found Brian Robiskie for a 48-yard completion on the first play of the fourth quarter. Boeckman later threw a touchdown to fellow quarterback Terrelle Pryor and nearly helped Ohio State to a big upset.

Ohio State's defense -- Colt McCoy and Quan Cosby had the final word in Glendale, but Ohio State held the high-powered Texas offense well below its season scoring average. The Buckeyes racked up three sacks and nine tackles for loss and limited big plays until Cosby's 26-yard touchdown with 16 seconds left.

Northwestern quarterback C.J. Bacher -- Bacher ended an up-and-down senior season with arguably his best performance in the Valero Alamo Bowl. He threw for 304 yards and three touchdowns against Missouri in a 30-23 overtime loss. Bacher threw only one interception and spread the ball well to his veteran targets.

Northwestern's senior wide receivers -- Rasheed Ward, Ross Lane and Eric Peterman combined for 19 receptions, 261 yards and three touchdowns in the Alamo Bowl. All three had scoring receptions of 20 yards or longer, highlighted by Lane's circus catch in the back of the end zone late in the third quarter.

Penn State linebacker Navorro Bowman -- The Rose Bowl was a rough one for Penn State's defense, but Bowman certainly did his part with five tackles for loss and a sack. Bowman finished the season with 106 tackles and 16.5 tackles for loss. Next season he'll form the Big Ten's top linebacker tandem with Sean Lee.

Michigan State safety Otis Wiley -- Wiley and his fellow defenders held Georgia to three first-half points in the Capital One Bowl and gave the Spartans offense a chance to create some distance on the scoreboard. Michigan State eventually caved against Matthew Stafford, but Wiley had a forced fumble and seven tackles to go along with 87 return yards in his final collegiate game.

Minnesota wide receiver Eric Decker -- Decker returned from knee surgery and an ankle injury to boost the Gophers in the Insight Bowl with eight receptions for 149 yards and a touchdown. The junior set Minnesota bowl records for receptions and receiving yards and will return in 2009 as one of the Big Ten's top targets.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Northwestern outplayed Missouri for most of the Valero Alamo Bowl.

The Wildcats had a tremendous game plan, made big plays on both sides of the ball and kept Chase Daniel, Jeremy Maclin and Chase Coffman from lighting up the Alamodome scoreboard, which seemed like a guarantee entering tonight's contest. As the biggest underdog of the 68 FBS bowl teams, Northwestern has nothing to be ashamed about after a 30-23 overtime loss to the Tigers in a thrilling contest.

But when you're a massive underdog and you face a more talented opponent, you need to execute the little things. Details matter more than ever. For Northwestern, the little things came on special teams, and in that area, Pat Fitzgerald's team failed miserably.

Northwestern had no business being tied with Missouri at halftime after dominating the opening 30 minutes. But a poorly executed punt, one that should have gone out of bounds, allowed Maclin to race 75 yards for the tying touchdown with a minute left before the break.

That's seven points right there. At worst, Northwestern should have been up 10-3 at the half.

The Wildcats then opened the second half with a brilliant scoring drive capped by a 46-yard Rasheed Ward touchdown catch. But in a scene Northwestern fans are all too familiar with, kicker Amado Villarreal missed on the extra point attempt. The conversion would have forced Missouri to score a touchdown in the closing minutes rather than settle for a field goal. Northwestern's defense did a great job of keeping Missouri out of the end zone, so a stop was likely.

Eight points on special teams likely doomed the Wildcats, and that's not even counting a missed field goal in the opening half. In a game where Northwestern did so many things right, the special teams details really stung.

The program's first bowl win since 1949 would have been huge, but Northwestern made a strong statement tonight, especially on the defensive side. The Wildcats held Missouri's offense to three first half points and picked off Daniel three times. Though Missouri ultimately made the plays when it mattered, Northwestern's defense was one of the bright spots in the Big Ten and should only improve in 2009.

Quarterback C.J. Bacher and wide receivers Eric Peterman, Ross Lane and Ward played arguably their best games of the season, and running back Tyrell Sutton came off a wrist injury to rush for 114 yards. Northwestern's problems along the offensive line came back to haunt the team late, and some questionable play-calling gave Missouri the time to rally and force overtime.

The 34-year-old Fitzgerald has Northwestern headed in the right direction. It's critical that this program sustains success, something it did not do after Fitzgerald finished playing in 1996. Those who dismiss Northwestern because of its pre-1995 history are simply uninformed, but the program still needs to get over the hump in bowl games.

Fine-tuning the details on special teams is a good place to start.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The Week 1 depth charts are gradually coming out around the Big Ten. Here's a look at two.

INDIANA

  • As expected, no starting quarterback has been named for the Western Kentucky game. It will be Ben Chappell or incumbent Kellen Lewis.
  • Redshirt freshman Chris Adkins has won the second starting cornerback spot opposite Chris Phillips. Donnell Jones and Richard Council are the second-stringers.
  • Fifth-year senior Marcus Thigpen remains the starter at running back ahead of Bryan Payton and Demetrius McCray. Freshman Darius Willis isn't listed on the depth chart but coach Bill Lynch expects him to play this fall.
  • Florida transfer Jerimy Finch, cleared to play this season, is listed behind Austin Thomas as the second-string strong safety.
  • Sophomore Brad Martin is the starting tight end ahead of promising redshirt freshman Max Dedmond.
  • I was a little surprised not to see freshman wideout DaMarlo Belcher on the two-deep. He was the most impressive player at last Wednesday's practice and should see the field this fall.

NORTHWESTERN

  • The new-look starting offensive line reads as follows: left tackle Al Netter, left guard Keegan Kennedy, center Ben Burkett, right guard Joel Belding and right tackle Kurt Mattes. That means C.J. Bacher's blind side will be protected by a redshirt freshman (Netter) and a guy (Kennedy) who played the better part of three seasons at defensive tackle. It's a little scary, but Northwestern has been impressed with both players and especially Burkett at center.
  • Reserve wide receiver Jeremy Ebert is the lone true freshman on the two-deep -- a telling sign about Northwestern's returning experience. Ebert also will start at kickoff returner with Stephen Simmons. The Wildcats will start Eric Peterman, Ross Lane, Andrew Brewer and Rasheed Ward at the wide receiver spots.
  • Sophomore Josh Rooks has moved into the top spot at superback (tight end-fullback hybrid) after the season-ending knee injury to Drake Dunsmore. Junior Brendan Mitchell is behind Rooks.
  • Sophomore Corbin Bryant will start the Syracuse game at defensive tackle in place of suspended star John Gill. Bryant had five tackles last season.
  • Senior Kevin Mims holds a starting spot at defensive end ahead of hard-charging redshirt freshman Vince Browne.
  • Peterman will open the season as the starting punt returner ahead of safety Brendan Smith.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

EVANSTON, Ill. -- Sorry for the lengthy delay. I just got back from watching Northwestern's practice and listening to coach Pat Fitzgerald address the media. I spoke with both new coordinators (Mike Hankwitz and Mick McCall) and several players at practice, so check back throughout the afternoon for updates.

Here are some items of interest from practice:

  • Starting running back Tyrell Sutton sat out practice after sustaining a minor leg/ankle injury Wednesday, but he should be fine in a few days. I spoke to Sutton and he expects to practice next week when the team heads to Kenosha, Wis., for training. Though any sort of leg problem is a concern after Sutton missed five games last season with a high ankle sprain, the senior wasn't wearing any brace and seemed to be walking fine.
  • Promising redshirt freshman defensive end Vince Browne also missed practice with a minor injury.
  • As expected, junior defensive tackle Marshall Thomas practiced with the first-team defense in the spot normally reserved for John Gill, who is suspended for the first week of practice and the season opener for violating team policy. Thomas and classmate Corbin Bryant are the likeliest candidates to start against Syracuse on Aug. 30. Gill is working out independently at the football complex and was spotted on his way to the locker room.
  • The defense looked significantly more aggressive than in past seasons, a possible result of Hankwitz's arrival. Junior safety Brendan Smith, who earned a medical hardship last season because of a shoulder injury, leveled several big hits. Redshirt freshman linebacker Kevin Watt also delivered some punishment on running back Jacob Schmidt.
  • Smith staged an entertaining competition with wide receiver Andrew Brewer, another projected starter who comes off an injury. Brewer, a former starting quarterback for the Wildcats, will be a major threat on deep routes, as he showed by leaping to snag a pass.
  • I spent some time with Northwestern's new athletic director Jim Phillips, who is working to upgrade the school's facilities. After seeing what's going on at Michigan and Michigan State, it's crucial for Northwestern to catch up and keep pace. Phillips also said general ticket sales for the football season are up 56 percent from last year. He's driving up to Green Bay on Friday to visit with his Northwestern predecessor, Packers president Mark Murphy, who has been a little busy lately with some Favre guy.
  • The safeties stood out more than any other position during team drills. Smith, Brad Phillips and redshirt freshman David Arnold all recorded pass breakups, and sophomore James Nussbaum picked off a pass.
  • Northwestern hasn't used its tight ends much in the spread offense era, but that could and should change this fall. Drake Dunsmore and mammoth sophomore Josh Rooks looked good at the superback position, a tight end-fullback-wide receiver mix. Both players are threats down the middle of the field.
  • Senior Rasheed Ward is projected to start with the first-team offense, but sophomore Sidney Stewart took his place at Thursday's practice.
  • With players in shorts, it was hard to get a great read on the offensive line, the team's biggest question entering the season. The first team consisted of tackles Kurt Mattes and Al Netter, guards Joel Belding and Keegan Kennedy and center Ben Burkett.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

 
 Scott Boehm/Getty Images
 C.J. Bacher threw for 3,656 yards a year ago, but he isn't afraid to run with the ball.

It was a weird 2007 for Northwestern quarterback C.J. Bacher. He led the Big Ten and set a school record with 3,656 passing yards. He had an insane two weeks during which he combined for 990 passing yards and nine touchdowns in wins against Michigan State and Minnesota.

But the gaudy numbers were a bit hollow as Bacher ranked seventh in the Big Ten in pass efficiency and tied with Minnesota's Adam Weber for the league lead in interceptions. He finished with as many touchdowns (19) as picks, a fitting stat for a Wildcats team that ended up 6-6 and missed a bowl game.

Bacher heads into his senior season hoping to lead a talented Northwestern offense back to the postseason. The skill positions are well-stocked, but he's dealing with his third offensive coordinator (Mick McCall) in four seasons and a rebuilding line. I caught up with Bacher on Thursday afternoon.

What has been your mental preparation heading into your senior season?

C.J. Bacher: We have a new offense now, so things have changed a little bit. I'm trying to get really comfortable with the offense and make sure my teammates are getting comfortable. That's the biggest focus right now, working to get better with the intricacies of the offense.

How has the offense changed?

CB: It's a lot like what we ran before. It's just the terminology's different and the routes are different. Small things have changed. We just have to learn those little things and get used to each other in the offense.

At Bowling Green (McCall's former school), they ran their quarterbacks quite a bit. Do you expect to be on the move a lot more this fall?

CB: Coach McCall's all about plays. He's had Josh Harris, who was a good runner and he ran with him. And he had Omar Jacobs, who was a great passer and he threw the ball a lot with him. We'll see what he thinks of me, and we'll find out when the season starts.

What do you think of yourself as a runner?

CB: I think I can run. I like running. I'd rather be back there throwing the ball, but I enjoy running, too. If I can pick up 5-10 yards on a run, I'll be happy to get ready for the next play.

This is your third coordinator in four years. How does Mick compare, personality-wise, with Garrick McGee and Mike Dunbar?

CB: It's been interesting. You start to get comfortable with an OC and then you have a new one the next year. It's a little tough to adjust. Coach McCall has done a great job making us feel comfortable with the offense and with him. He's got a real live personality. He's one of those guys who's happy-go-lucky and then he has the ability to really bear down and be a disciplinarian as well. We really enjoy being around him. It's been a lot of fun so far.

Has he incorporated plays that you guys ran in the past?

CB: There's a lot of both. We have a lot of plays we're running now that we haven't run before, and we have a lot of plays that are very similar to plays that we've run before, maybe details that are a little different. That's what we're trying to get used to. It's going to be a little different, but we're still a spread offense. We're still doing the same things that we were recruited here to do. It should be a smooth transition.

Who has had the toughest adjustment?

CB: I'd like to say the quarterback (laughs). I'm sure the receivers would say the receivers and the running backs would say the running backs. It's a lot to learn, it's a lot to digest, but we're all smart kids at Northwestern. We're going to figure it out.

Speaking of the receivers, how confident are you with that group? You've got familiarity with guys like Eric Peterman and Ross Lane. Is that the strongest group you've worked with?

CB: I think we've got the best receiving corps in the Big Ten. Top to bottom, we have a lot of guys that can make plays, both running routes and making plays after the catch. I'm really excited. We've got speed guys, we've got possession guys, but everybody in our receiving corps can make plays. The four guys that are looking like the frontrunners to get most of the playing time -- Eric, Ross, (Andrew) Brewer and Rasheed (Ward) -- are really doing a good job this summer. I'm excited. It makes my job that much easier when I've got those guys around me.

Andrew has only caught one pass in college, but he's a guy that creates a lot of excitement with his speed as a former quarterback. What does he bring to that group?

CB: The biggest thing about him is he's bigger than anybody on the perimeter and he's faster than anybody inside. He's a mismatch for us inside. I don't know how defenses are going to be able to defend him. I'm just excited to be able to throw him the ball, see him juke a corner or run past a linebacker. We're all excited to see what he can do in game situations. He's had this amount of time at receiver under his belt, and he's picked up the route-running a lot. He really knows what he's doing as a receiver.

When you look at your season last year, did it mirror the team's?

CB: Last year was, obviously, a very up-and-down season for us and, personally, I felt it was kind of the same way. The main focus for me to stay more consistent is to take care of the football and really not take as many shots. In a lot of games last year, I was trying to do too much. Coach McCall has really pounded it into my head that we can compete with anybody. I don't have to make the spectacular play, just the smart one.

Pat Fitzgerald has talked about sometimes the best throw is in the fourth row. Is that hard for you because you want to make plays?

CB: A couple years ago, we were a little overmatched against some of these teams. I've just got to realize that our team is so stacked on the perimeter, there's so many guys that can make big plays after they catch it, so a 2-yard pass might turn into a 50-yard gain, whereas a 50-yard pass is pretty hard to complete.

Most of the concerns with your offense are about the line, wh
ich loses three starters. What have you seen from that group so far?

CB: I'm really excited about our additions to the offensive line. Keegan Kennedy's moved over from defensive tackle to offensive guard. He's been looking really good. I'm really excited about his progress. Ben Burkett, who was injured last year and redshirted, he's looking really good, too. And then we added Al Netter over at left tackle. It's a process to get these guys to mesh, but Coach (Bret) Ingalls is doing a good job so far. I expected improvement from last year. With Ben, Keegan and Al, as soon as they can come together and mesh, they're going to do a great job protecting me and opening up holes.

Do you take on an even greater leadership role as a senior quarterback?

CB: As a senior, you do feel a bit of a sense of entitlement just because you've been here so long. We've got so many seniors now. It's pretty easy to get those guys to help us out with the leadership. When you get older and you've been on the field, people really look up to you. We have a lot of young guys who can help us this year, so it's definitely made it easier having more seniors.

What have you sensed from running back Tyrell Sutton after an injury-plagued 2007 season?

CB: He feels a bit of a sense of urgency just because it's his last year. These last couple of years have been tough for him because of injuries. You can expect for him to be back and be stronger than ever. I'm excited to see what he can do on the field. It was such a layoff from being actually healthy. Now we've got him healthy and, hopefully, we can keep him that way. If he can stay healthy, I think he's the best running back in the Big Ten.

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