Northwestern Superbacks Preview
WNUR’s Axel Boada (@axelboada) previews the superbacks for the 2014 Northwestern football season.
Northwestern is known for utilizing the superback position, a tight end/fullback hybrid that mixes a player’s athleticism and versatility into a role that barely fits within a title. Essentially, a superback is an “Everyman,” and it is no secret Northwestern values the position very highly.
Starter: Junior Dan Vitale is back at the helm for the third straight year. Though he had a strong start to the 2013 campaign, he didn’t exactly live up to the hype following his late-season breakout in 2012. In the season-opener against California, Vitale caught five balls for 101 yards. The following week against Syracuse, he had 4 catches for 42 yards and a touchdown. He tacked on good performances against Iowa and Michigan State but struggled at times to be a factor on offense. That’s not saying Vitale had a poor season. In fact, he improved in every major statistical category en route to finishing third on the team in both receptions and touchdowns, with 34 and three, respectively. However, the marginal improvement overall between his freshman and sophomore year left much to be desired. But the offense struggled in general, and this year’s offense seems to be headed in the right direction. Expect an increased emphasis on the passing game, which in turn will allow Vitale to once again emerge as a serious threat to opposing defenses.
Dan Vitale should expect to be a pillar of Northwestern’s offensive attack.
Reserves: If Vitale were to fall due to injury, Northwestern has superbacks in surplus. There are currently six on the active roster. The only problem is that at least four of them have no substantial on-field experience. Sophomore Jake Schwaba appeared in three of the Wildcats’ first four games but recorded no statistics. Junior Doug Diedrick dealt with an injury and was only able to play in the final three games of the season, also recording no statistics. Jayme Taylor will be entering his redshirt freshman season. Only junior Mark Szott had an extended look at the field, playing 10 games on special teams.
Future: The heir apparent seems to be the sixth member of the group, freshman Garrett Dickerson, younger brother of current Wildcat wide receiver Cameron Dickerson. The 4-star recruit turned down 23 scholarship offers, including ones from Alabama and defending National Champion Florida State. Standing at 6-foot-3, 235 pounds, the former tight end/defensive end has a skill set worthy of such high regard. A two-way player in high school, Dickerson caught 25 passes for 376 yards and recorded 32 tackles his senior year. His experience playing both sides of the ball makes him the perfect fit as a superback. He will know how to contest with defensive linemen trying to make their way to the quarterback, as he himself was one. Also, his speed and size will cause headaches for linebackers as he catches balls down the middle of the field. Though it remains to be seen how much playing time, if any, Dickerson gets this upcoming season, he has the makings of a true offensive playmaker for the Wildcats down the road.
Overall: With a healthy Venric Mark at running back and a mostly intact offense returning from last year, the team should see other viable threats materialize within the receiving core. If this is the case, that spells good news for Vitale, making him the beneficiary of more touches and opportunities to make plays. If that doesn’t excite fans, a potential star superback waiting in the horizons in the form of Dickerson certainly should.