NCF Nation: Omar Jacobs
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
The departure of a three-year starter at quarterback is never cause for celebration, but Northwestern offensive coordinator Mick McCall could get exactly what he wants in the backfield this fall.
|Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images|
|Mike Kafka is one option for the Wildcats at quarterback in 2009.|
Northwestern's spread offense works best with a mobile quarterback who poses a legitimate rushing threat. After all, the roots of the Wildcats' system can be traced directly to Rich Rodriguez, who has directed dynamic offenses with mobile quarterbacks (Shaun King, Woody Dantzler, Pat White) and struggled mightily when his quarterbacks lack foot speed (Michigan's 2008 season).
McCall also enjoyed his best coaching success when he mentored mobile quarterbacks Josh Harris and Omar Jacobs at Bowling Green.
Outgoing Northwestern starter C.J. Bacher and his predecessor Brett Basanez showed decent mobility at times, but the team has lacked a true rushing threat since Zak Kustok finished his career in 2001.
McCall will have two when spring practice opens March 30.
"It puts a lot of pressure on the defense when the quarterback can run and be able to break some things open that way," McCall said. "The defense definitely has to be a lot different."
Projected starter Mike Kafka already has established himself as a rushing threat in the Big Ten. Making his first start in three years Nov. 1 against Minnesota, Kafka set a Big Ten quarterback record with 217 rushing yards. He followed with 83 rushing yards the next week against Ohio State.
Backup Dan Persa can move a bit, too.
As a high school senior in Bethlehem, Pa., he became the first player in state history to eclipse 2,000 passing yards and 1,000 rush yards in the same season. Despite serving as Northwestern's third-string quarterback last fall, Persa was used regularly on special teams, even returning a kickoff against Michigan.
Kafka and Persa should enhance a rushing attack that loses Tyrell Sutton, a four-year starter at running back, but McCall chooses to focus more on their arms than their legs.
"We've still got to find ways to move the football through the air because you cannot sit there and pound the quarterback and pound him and pound him, and expect him to throw for 65 percent completion or 70 percent completion," McCall said. "[Tim] Tebow can't even do it, and you're talking about a guy who's won a Heisman.
"We've got to be realistic about what our guys can do and how many hits they can take."
The offseason didn't bring an overwhelming amount of change to Big Ten coaching staffs. Aside from Michigan, which brought in a completely new group, and Northwestern, which lost one coordinator and fired the other, most of the league's assistants remained in their posts. But there were several notable moves, particularly at the coordinator spots. Here's a look at the new -- and, in some cases, familiar -- faces in charge of Big Ten offenses and defenses.
Michigan offensive coordinator Calvin Magee: If anyone had an uglier departure from West Virginia than Rich Rodriguez, it was probably Magee. He's back with Rodriguez at Michigan, helping to implement a wildly successful offense with completely new personnel. Magee coached running backs for the last seven seasons at West Virginia, adding the title of offensive coordinator in 2005. He was named the American Football Coaches Association Assistant Coach of the Year in 2007 and has overseen a top-5 rushing attack in each of the last three seasons. He now must work his magic with Brandon Minor, Carlos Brown and Kevin Grady.
Michigan defensive coordinator Scott Shafer: Shafer must have a very understanding wife. He has been at three spots -- Illinois, Western Michigan and Stanford -- in the last four seasons. But it's for positive reasons. The rising star coordinated a Western Michigan defense that led the nation in both interceptions and sacks in 2006. At Stanford, he played a key role in last season's stunning road win against USC -- one of the biggest upsets in college football history. Shafer's energetic style was a hit at Western Michigan, and he should do well up I-94 in Ann Arbor.
Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Doeren: Coach Bret Bielema promoted Doeren to oversee a defense that was hardly porous (38th nationally) last season but fell off from its 2006 form. His decision to fire veteran Mike Hankwitz was surprising at first, but a background check on both Doeren and Bielema shows that this move was coming sooner or later. Both coaches spent time at Big 12 schools in Kansas before moving up the ranks. Doeren brings a fiery personality to a veteran-laden defense. Injuries depleted the unit this spring, so preseason camp will be important for Doeren to cement his philosophies.
Northwestern offensive coordinator Mick McCall: The spread offense has been Northwestern's calling card since 2000, so when coordinator Garrick McGee left for Arkansas, coach Pat Fitzgerald needed someone familiar with the system. He found it in McCall, the Bowling Green offensive coordinator who coached standout quarterbacks Josh Harris and Omar Jacobs. Bowling Green runs a slightly different version of the spread than the Wildcats, but McCall inherits a veteran offense stocked at the skill positions.
Northwestern defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz: This was the more important hire for Fitzgerald, and he scored a coup by hiring Hankwitz, the Wisconsin cast-off. While the Badgers chose a younger voice to lead their defense, Northwestern hired a much-needed sage. The 60-year-old Hankwitz has served as defensive coordinator at six different schools, first holding the title in 1982. He's known for zone blitzes and provides a veteran ear for the 33-year-old Fitzgerald. He takes over a defense that hasn't finished higher than 68th nationally since 2000.
Minnesota defensive coordinator Ted Roof: Perhaps no new coordinator has as daunting an assignment as Roof, who must fix the nation's worst defense -- one that set several school records for futility in 2007. He couldn't fix Duke -- then again, who can? -- and was fired after four-plus seasons as head coach, but he brings a strong reputation for crafting formidable defenses. He engineered defensive turnarounds at Georgia Tech and, briefly, Duke. Roof made tackling a priority this spring and must figure out how to work in several talented junior-college transfers.
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.
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.