Commentary: Spring Update
by Jonathan Hodges

Northwestern is about half way through its spring practices, which culminate in the Spring Game held on Saturday, April 25th, with one scrimmage in the books so far.  Although nothing earth-shattering has happened, there have been some noteworthy occurrences (as reported by NUSports.com, ESPN, and the Chicago Tribune):

Running Back

Stephan Simmons has been practicing with the first team exclusively and in the scrimmage on April 11th had 31 yards on 14 carries.  But, it looks like he may have some competition from true sophomore and converted WR Jeravin Matthews, who racked up 113 yards on only 15 carries (including one 49 yard TD scamper with the second team) as he's earning more playing time - including some with the first team.  The only other RB to garner playing time was redshirt freshman Alex Daniel, who had a respectable 64 yards on 14 carries with the second team, although ESPN's Rittenberg has reported was a bit banged up last week.  Concannon and Schmidt (out due to injury this spring) are also in the mix, and look out for Trumpy and Fields come summer - but it looks like the top 3 will likely be Simmons, Matthews, and Daniel.


Ben Johnson and Chris Jeske have seen a good amount of time at LB, which is encouraging news as their time should help NU's depth at that position that lost 2 senior starters from the beginning of last season.  Jeske's play is especially encouraging considering the number of injuries he's sustained since enrolling at NU (back injury earlier and leg injury last year).  Look for Nate Williams to anchor the middle, Davie to get some time on the outside, but expect a good competition between Johnson, Jeske, McNaul (injured during the spring), and Nagel.

Defensive Line

Adam Hahn was injured during the first week of practice but is expected to be back to full health before too long (Wootton and Bryant were already being held out).  In the meantime, a lot of backups are getting some playing time in, including Watt, DiNardo, and Thomas - who should all see significant time in the DL rotation this fall.  With the improvement shown last year by the DL under Hankwitz and DL coach Long, expect even better things this fall.


The defensive backfield is showing its depth this spring - even with Phillips sidelined, Peters has shown he can step right in and take care of business, helping the defensive unit prevent the first team offense from scoring a TD in the first scrimmage - he had an INT to help the cause.  Oh, and Mabin had a pick-6 during the scrimmage, too.  The starting foursome/fivesome (in nickel sets) of Phillips, Smith, Mabin, McManis and Peters should be able to "lock down" opponents this fall - especially if the DL can continue wreaking havoc up front.

Offensive Line

From left to right, the first teamers are: Netter, Bartels, Burkett, Grant, and Mattes.  Taylor, out for the spring, should provide competition at RT in the summer/fall, if not taking over the position outright (he started for much of last season).  Having the OL starters settled pretty well in advance of the season - and all of them garnering valuable experience - should be a huge boost over last season.

Passing Game

Kafka has looked solid so far, although he didn't put up impressive stats against NU's staunch first team D; Persa put up some decent numbers (10-14 for 104 yards, 2 TDs) against the 2nd team defense.  At this point it looks like the progression there is going alright and should provide some stability at the QB position.  At WR, the first teamers include Brewer, Stewart, Brown, and Frymire - although remember that last year's true freshman starter Ebert is out for the spring.  Their progression should give NU some viable targets this fall, especally with Brewer at full health.

As usual, it's great to hear about NU's spirited practice sessions under Coach Fitz and to avoid injuries.  Hopefully some of those burning questions will be answered once spring practice is over and the updated depth chart is released, although I anticipate some of those (RB in particular) may remain into the summer and possibly into the nonconference portion of the schedule come fall.

Go 'Cats!!!

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

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jhodges is the primary content provider of HailToPurple.com.  His commentary and game analyses appear regularly during the season and occasionally in the offseason.