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 decided).


- 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 last year.


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.

Remaining Questions

- 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 progressed.

- 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 2008?

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.

Go 'Cats!!!

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

Previous jhodges commentary

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