Northwestern football opened up spring practice on Saturday, as onlookers got their first taste of the spring roster. This looks to be a transition year for the Wildcats, starting the year without many senior starters from last season including quarterback Trevor Siemian, wide receiver Kyle Prater and safety Ibraheim Campbell, who are off to the draft this May. This off-season will be about getting this team on the same page and defining roles in a lot of major positions.
Saturday saw more focus on the offense, and the biggest stage appears to belong to the battle at quarterback. The projected starter seems to be Zack Oliver, who was the only player other than Siemian to take snaps last season. His experience, however limited, could be the difference when it comes to the final decision made by head coach Pat Fitzgerald and offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Mick McCall. While Oliver seemed the most confident, he told reporters that McCall let all of the quarterbacks know there would be an open competition at the position, between himself, Clayton Thorson, Daniel Kubiuk and Matt Alviti. Alviti was the highest rated recruit in Northwestern’s 2013 class, and ESPN.com rated him as the nation’s No. 2 dual-threat quarterback.
“It all starts with being comfortable with the guys around you, trusting the linemen, trusting the receivers, and when you can build that trust and when you can hold each other accountable, this team can be great”, Alviti said. All three quarterbacks who spoke to reporters Saturday cited mobility as an important part of the offensive game plan going into next season, and all three feel like they can move.
Clayton Thorson, a freshman out of Wheaton North, told reporters that the quarterback group has done a good job working together so far in the offseason.
“Its a great competition”, Thorson said. “We’re all friends and we all help each other out”.
Thorson didn’t play at all last season, but his familiarity with the system could give him a leg up on Alviti. He is more comfortable with the offense, and led them to the only touchdown scoring drive of the day, a screen pass to running back Austin Anderson.
“When you get Austin Anderson in space”, Thorson smiled, “he’s gonna score”.
Anderson, a red shirt freshman out of Plano, Texas, was the standout of practice as he showed off his lightening speed and mobility. Anderson, who models his game after Emmitt Smith, will be trying to give Justin Jackson and Solomon Vault some competition for the starting job, which would appear to be going to Jackson after rushing for over 1100 yards and ten touchdowns last season. Vault, who was originally recruited as a wide receiver, believes it will come down to putting the best offense on the field.
While it is important not to read too much into a spring practice thats open to the public, this does certainly appear to be a rebuilding year for the Wildcats with an eye on the future.