Commentary: 2009 Post-Spring Depth Chart
by Jonathan Hodges
It's been a month since the spring practice season ended for Northwestern
Football with the spring game, and just under a month since the release of the
post-spring depth chart by Coach Fitz, but I've decided to space out my
commentary during the slowest part of the calendar year in terms of college
football. Although there are some recruiting activities and summer workouts,
there is very little to catch a fan's interest between the end of spring
practice (last week of April) and the start of fall camp (first week of August)
- but I'll try to fill the time with some commentary on NU, the Big Ten, and
college football in general.
First up, though, is the post spring depth
chart - and who the starters are expected to be going into fall camp (of course,
jobs can be won/lost during the month leading up to the season - and that's
before we've seen any live play in 2009). Not a ton of surprises, but
definitely some interesting notes heading into the summer (where, as many know,
the fate of the coming season is really
- OLB Ben Johnson: Johnson, the
relatively undersized (at least in terms of weight, he's listed at 6'4" 215lb)
sophomore beat out ND transfer Nagel and up and comer McNaul (who was held out
during the spring) to secure the open starting OLB position (Nate Williams will
continue to hold down the middle with Davie on the other side - both were
starters at those positions at the end of last season). He was a standout in
special teams play last year and now it looks like he's won over Fitz enough to
lock down a key position. But, he better not let off the gas, especially with
the aforementioned talented players nipping at his heels.
- WR Zeke
Markshausen: Zeke has seen only limited time as a backup WR in recent seasons,
but has won a starting spot in the slot amongst a relatively large and
competitive field of receiviers. Look for this senior to use his experience in
the program to his advantage, and hopefully that practice time with Kafka built
up over the years will help make a reliable target. As with Johnson, he'll have
a lot of competition for playing time as there are numerous receivers who will
be rotated into games this year.
- Backup RB: Alex Daniel OR Jeravin
Matthews: Matthews had some impressive runs during spring scrimmages, but Daniel
did a nice job running - especially between the tackles during the spring game.
Simmons still appears as the starter on the depth chart, but both of these guys
are vying for playing time come fall - expect to see some from all 3 during most
games in 2009. It was definitely a pleasant surprise to see solid springs from
both guys at a position that lost a lot of experience after graduating 2 seniors
Although it's tough to
characterize performance in a scrimmage as disappointing, I'll call out a few
guys here. Fortunately, there is a lot of time to go until the season rolls
around - workouts and fall camp - meaning that there's time to improve and prove
us prognosticators wrong.
- Injuries: as mentioned during the pre-spring
writeup, injuries kept a lot of big players off the field - including Wootton,
Phillips, Ebert, and Taylor - just to name a few. It would give fans a lot more
confidence to have seen these guys on the practice field, but it's admittedly
better to have them healed and ready for fall. Hopefully key defensive players
Wootton and Phillips will be ready for gameday on September 5th to continue the
defensive improvement into 2009.
- QB Dan Persa: many were
hoping/expecting Persa to challenge Kafka for the starting QB job, and as a
dual-threat recruit with a solid arm, many were looking for him to continue in
the line of Kustok and Basanez as a successful dual-threat QB this decade. But,
he left a lot to be desired - although he didn't make a lot of horrible mistakes
(i.e. turnovers), he didn't build a lot of confidence in being able to handle
the offense and use many options to his advantage. But, that's what practice is
for and hopefully he'll be ready as the backup come fall and will be able to
lead a competition for starting QB going into 2010.
- QB Mike Kafka: Will he be able to prove his arm and lead
an efficient offense come fall? He did a respectable job in the spring, but you
never know until he sees live competition. Hopefully he will still be able to
utilize his legs while leading an effective passing game - a component everyone
knows that he needs to prove that he can do.
- Running Back: It was
great to see Simmons, Daniel, and Matthews have solid springs, but the fact is
that NU lacks a strong running threat. Of course many remember that starting
2005, NU was in the same predicament when the true freshman Sutton took off from
the pack for the best freshman season from any NU running back. It looks like
they'll split time to start, so who will be the first guy to step up and win a
full time starting job?
- Receiver: The questions for the offensive skill
positions continue as NU lost essentially most of its offensive yardage
production from 2008. Which receivers will step up to fill the big voids left
by Lane, Peterman, and Ward? Can Ebert continue his progression after a solid
true freshman campaign? Can Brewer turn into the field-stretching go-to guy (he
sure looked like he could with his 55 yard TD reception in the spring game)?
And can the rotation of WRs prove to be reliable targets for Kafka?
Offensive Line: Yes, not much movement in a now experienced OL, with returning
guys at every position just a year after throwing 5 young guys into the fire -
but can they improve by consistently opening up holes for the running game and
protecting Kafka when he drops back to pass? Although they did a respectable
job last season, they started to show their inexperience as the season
- Punter: With Demos basically converted over to a full time
placekicker, who will take over punting duties? Nobody punted or kicked off
during the spring game, so that question is way up in the air - given Demos'
battle with injuries during his first 3 seasons (one of those as a redshirt
freshman) it is crazy to believe that he'll be handling all kicking duties as
indicated on the depth chart. Will true freshman Budzien take over punting come
fall, and can NU's new specialist lineup repeat the consistency found in
There's a ways to go until the first week of August, but at
least 'Cats fans have something to chomp on until then - next up will be fall
previews as well as some additional offseason commentary.
Previous jhodges commentary
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