Post-Game Analysis: Spring Game 2008
by Jonathan Hodges

Although not an official contest by any means, I will post my wrap up commentary of Northwestern's 2008 Spring Game.

The number one objective of the spring game scrimmage is usually to get by without injury, and unfortunately NU was unable to accomplish that goal as WR Kevin Frymire went down with a broken leg/ankle very early in the contest as Tyrell Sutton was tackled into the back of his legs on a long gain.  Also, OL Tanner Highlen came out of the game with an ankle injury (which appeared to be relatively minor).  Other than that, there were many players held out of the game due to previous injury that are expected to return come fall, including numerous starters, and here are some of them: DL: Hahn, Mims, LB: Jeske (who went out of spring practice with a knee injury) CB: McManis, S: Smith, OL: Belding, RB: Simmons, WR: Stewart, Brown, Yarbrough, K/P: Demos (held on field goal tries throughout the spring), and Villareal.  On the other hand, both backup QBs Kafka and Persa donned normal jerseys that allowed them to be tackled - something a little out of the norm for QBs in the spring, although those two did run the ball quite often (more on that later).  Hopefully Northwestern will be able to enter Camp Kenosha at 100% health (or close to it) and make it to August 30th ready for action.

No score was kept, the clock ran continuously, and there were numerous breaks in the action as the clock kept moving, but overall the 'Cats ran a 75 play scrimmage that featured a few different looks on offense and a lot of new faces on the field.  The key starters basically played one series then sat out the rest of the time as the near-starters and 2nd/3rd string had their opportunity to play.  The offense seemed to have their way during the first half of the day before the defense held them back in the second half, although the success of either unit is up to debate - the best part was just getting many guys into live action.

Offensively, Sutton had one long run (on the play that led to the unfortunate Frymire injury), but the best runners were Conteh (with 111 yds and a TD), Kafka (36 yds) and Persa (25 yds).  In fact, both Kafka and Persa looked very comfortable running the football - given that they are quarterbacks.  Concannon had quite a few carries although he did not impress particularly much (12 yds on 9 carries) although he will most likely not play a big role in the offense as he is behind Sutton, Conteh, and Simmons on the roster.  Back to the running quarterbacks, though, Persa did play some RB in the last scrimmage, but that was most likely to fill a hole at the RB spot since Conteh was held out earlier in the spring practices.  New OC McCall most definitely employs designed QB runs in his scheme, though, and both Kafka and Persa look to be prepared to fulfill that role, and both looked good at evading pressure in the backfield.  The question that remains is if CJ Bacher will take on more designed runs come fall - over the past year and a half of playing time, it looks as though Bacher is purposely shying away from the run, so we will have to wait until the season begins to determine if McCall will call QB runs for CJ.

The offensive line held up rather well - although it is up to debate if they performed well or the DL didn't live up to expectations - but the QBs were pretty well protected on the day and there was some running room for the RBs (Conteh in particular).  Even without Belding on the field and with Highlen going out the OL held up, so hopefully that means things are coming together, BUT there is a long way to go before August and I don't believe the coaches have firmed up their starting 5 (currently, from left to right, it is: Netter, Rucks, Belding, Grant, and Mattes.  What did help, though, is having a "SB" (TE or FB) in there to block and the QB getting the ball away quickly on many passing plays.

NU definitely has its share of playmakers on offense, though, as there are plethora of WRs to receive passes.  Ward caught 2 TD passes on the day (one from Kafka, one from Persa), Brewer had a long reception where he had to adjust to the ball on the run, and even TE Rooks got in on the action with 2 receptions.  It definitely looks like the McCall spread will take advantage of those playmakers all around the field and get the ball into all of their hands when the time is right.  Speaking of the offensive scheme, we saw a lot of the no huddle offense on the field in this scrimmage as McCall is pushing more up-tempo offense, although I believe we'll see a more balanced approach come fall where NU can switch in and out of a no huddle offense.  Overall, the offensive performance was quite good given the circumstances (it was a little windy as well) and there is a lot to look forward to come fall.

On defense, one could notice some changes in terms of the style of play relative to last season, although I think that we're still in the early stages of the transition to a new defensive scheme under DC Hankwitz.  The DL showed some pressure up front, especially later in the scrimmage, while the secondary came up with a couple of broken up passes.  Standouts up front included Browne and Bryant who look to be young up and comers who will most likely get a shot at more PT this fall.  We didn't get an entirely accurate picture, though, with 2 DL and 2 DB held out of the game.  For the LBs, Arrington had some good hits, but outside of that nobody did a whole lot of note.

Special teams was held to field goal and extra point attempts only, with Daley hitting 3 of 5 field goal attempts (missed two at the very end of the game) and all of the extra points, although one must note the blustery conditions.  Both Demos and Villareal should be back come fall so we will wait and see how the special teams duties are divided among those three.

Overall, it was a good contest and we saw some of the younger guys get a chance to make it on the field in a live environment.  The standouts that I saw were: Conteh (RB), Browne (DL), Kafka and Persa (on QB runs, in particular), and Bryant (DL).  Some of the younger safeties (Arnold and Bolden) also looked good for their first live action.  Hopefully this will serve as a springboard for a great 2008!

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.