The Wildcats have wrapped up spring practice, and it’s time to start thinking about how Northwestern will shake up the roster in 2016. Our Jason Dorow takes an early look at what the Wildcat depth chart could look like in September.
|Quarterback||Clayton Thorson (So.)||Matt Alviti (Jr.), T.J. Green (R-Fr.)|
|Running Back||Justin Jackson (Jr.)||Warren Long (Sr.), John Moten IV (R-Fr.), Auston Anderson (So.)|
|Superback||Garrett Dickerson (Jr.)||Jayme Taylor (So.), Eric Lutzen (So.)|
|Outside Wide Receivers||Andrew Scanlan (Sr.), Marcus McShephard (Jr.)||Charlie Fessler (R-Fr.), Cameron Green (R-Fr.)|
|Inside Wide Receivers||Austin Carr (Sr.), Solomon Vault (Jr.)||Jelani Roberts (So.), Flynn Nagel (So.)|
|Left Tackle||Blake Hance (So.)||Sam Coverdale (Jr.)|
|Left Guard||Connor Mahoney (Sr.)||J.B. Butler (So.)|
|Center||Ian Park (Sr.)||Jared Thomas (Fr.)|
|Right Guard||Brad North (Jr.)||Shane Mertz (Sr.)|
|Right Tackle||Eric Olson (Sr.)||Tommy Doles (So.)|
Pat Fitzgerald has to feel good that he knows who will start at quarterback and running back for the next two seasons, but after that the offense holds a lot of uncertainty. The offensive line has a fair amount of experience and some promising young talent, but the group as a whole has not performed exceedingly well in recent years. Chalk the O-line up as a question mark again this season.
The wide receiver corps is looking at more depth issues than the big men upfront. Austin Carr is the only returning wideout who was among the team’s top seven receivers last season. Solomon Vault moved from the backfield to the slot and Marcus McShephard is even switching sides of the ball to provide more versatility in the group. Luckily for NU, Garrett Dickerson is primed for a big season, replacing Dan Vitale at superback, and running back John Moten could turn some heads with what touches he receives.
|Defensive Ends||Ifeadi Odenigbo (Sr.), Xavier Washington (Jr.)||Joe Gaziano (R-Fr.), Trent Goens (R-Fr.)|
|Defensive Tackles||Tyler Lancaster (Jr.), Jordan Thompson (So.)||C.J. Robbins (Sr.), Greg Kuhar (Sr.), Fred Wyatt (Sr.)|
|Outside Linebackers||Nate Hall (So.), Joseph Jones (Sr.)||Jaylen Prater (Sr.), Brett Walsh (Jr.)|
|Middle Linebacker||Anthony Walker (Jr.)||Cameron Queiro (So.), Nathan Fox (R-Fr.)|
|Cornerbacks||Matt Harris (Sr.), Keith Watkins II (Jr.)||Montre Hartage (So.), Alonzo Mayo (R-Fr.), Trae Williams (R-Fr.)|
|Safeties||Godwin Igwebuike (Jr.), Kyle Queiro (Jr.)||Jake Murray (R-Fr.), Jared McGee (So.)|
Top to bottom these names should be more recognizable. Even on the defensive line, where NU has to replace Dean Lowry and Deonte Gibson, the Wildcats have a laundry list of proven options. The only question is if Ifeadi Odenigbo and Xavier Washington can transform from stud pass rushers to well-rounded ends.
Nick VanHoose and Drew Smith may be gone, but Keith Watkins and Nate Hall both showed more than flashes of brilliance last season. The linebackers should be spectacular in tracking ballcarriers sideline to sideline, and the secondary might actually live up to the immensely high expectations from their success in 2015. Don’t worry; the defense isn’t going anywhere.
|Kicker||Jack Mitchell (Sr.)|
|Punter||Hunter Niswander (Jr.)|
|Holder||Hunter Niswander (Jr.)|
|Kick Returner||Solomon Vault (Jr.)|
|Punt Returner||Matt Harris (Sr.)|
Matt Harris should be the only surprise here. After all why would you put your star cornerback at one of the most injury prone positions on the field? Well Northwestern is one of the most conservative return teams in the nation. Harris will wave his hand more often than he attempts a return. And if Fitz does want to shake things up, Vault or the speedy Jelani Roberts could handle punt returns.
A lot could change before football returns in September, especially on the offensive side of the ball. The progression and depth of the offensive line and wide receivers should determine if Northwestern can produce another stellar season.