Commentary: Answers from Kenosha and Other Preseason Wrap-Up
by Jonathan Hodges

Well, it's hard to think, but next Saturday the 'Cats will be on the playing field to kick off the 2007 season and many of us will be in attendance or watching (well, only if you have DirecTV).  Before my first pregame analysis (to be posted 2 days prior to gameday typically) I will wrap-up my preseason analysis, first by going over answers from Kenosha:

1. Kicker/Punter:  Fitz gave us an answer through the media within the last week: Demos will be on kickoffs and punts, while Villareal will handle field goals and extra points.  Given Demos' seemingly unbelievable leg this actually makes a good deal of sense and I almost 100% agree with Fitz's decision.  Booming and accurate punts and kickoffs will give the NU defense an edge that it has not had in recent years as NU had to lean on pooch kicks and directional punting, leading to relatively poor field position for the 'Cats defense.  Now with Demos (who has been seen nailing 70 yard punts in practice, according to reports) this should be an advantage for Northwestern - plus with kickoffs moved back to the 30 this year being able to pick up touchbacks will be a boon for special teams and the defense.  The one minor issue I disagree with (although we will see if it happens during the regular season as it is not outside the realm of possibility) is Demos kicking long (45+ yard) field goals if the occasion arises.  He obviously has the leg and this would extend the range of our offense in terms of scoring ability.  We will see if Fitz utilizes Demos as such once the season begins.

2. OL 2-Deep: About the only question that was answered was that the starting 5 will basically remain as-is: Thiry, Crum, Rees, Belding, and Mattes.  According to media sources, Rees will indeed be suspended for Game 1 due to his off the field problems over the off-season and Crum will fill in.  This should not have a large impact as the NU OL will have a huge size advantage over Northeastern even without Rees.  We will probably have to wait until this coming Monday when the Game 1 2-deep is revealed to see who's actually on there.  Also, Diaz apparently had an injury during camp, although it will apparently be healed by the start of the season.  The fact is that the 2-deep will still be in question until things are proven on the playing field.

3. LB 2-Deep:  A wait-and-see question - when the 2-deep for Game 1 is revealed we should have an idea, although some of the backups and even starters may be interchangeable as the season progresses.  Fitz has stated that the strength of this year's defense is at DL and that they would play with what they have - meaning a 4-3 defense for this year, although apparently the plan is still in place to move to a 3-4 in years to come.

4. Offensive Strategy:  Probably another wait-and-see question; the offense probably will not be truly revealed until the first time on the field, although the "superback" was utilized in blocking and receiving out of the backfield and off the line during camp - and many of the "superbacks" on the roster have proven to be rather good receivers.  We will see how this is utilized as part of the offense and if emphasis is taken off of the 4 or 5 wide spread offense NU fans have grown accustomed to.

5. Comfort Level of Coaches:  Something we won't know for sure until this team starts logging real playing time, but thus far from all indications (statements by coaches and players as well as the execution of practices) things have calmed down a lot from last year and things are settling into place.  There is still a lot of coachspeak coming from Fitz, but during the preseason it is hard to gage how things are going anyways.  Only time will tell how successful this year's squad is and how well the coaches have settled into their still relatively new positions.


Besides the season-ending injury to Brewer, reports have stated Smith is also having problems with the shoulder that he had surgery on in the off season.  Apparently he is day-to-day, although reports have him missing playing time.  This would be a big impact to NU as Smith has speed and can hit: he has proven himself as an on-the-field leader of the NU defense and his loss would be a negative impact to the secondary.  McPherson and Phillips provide viable options, but Smith was the gel of the defensive backfield and the guy who could run down an opponent in the open field.  Hopefully he will return to good health and get back on the field as he will be needed.

The countdown is on to the first game of the year... Go 'Cats!!!

e-mail: j-hodges@alumni.northwestern.edu

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