The sixth and final episode of The Foundation, a behind-the-scenes look at the Wildcats during spring practice, is posted above. All six episodes are available on nusports.com.

 

By Skip Myslenski
NUsports.com Special Contributor


Spring_Practice.jpgSome final notes, quotes and observations after the 'Cats wrapped up their spring labors on a sun-dappled Saturday with a practice at Lakeside Field...


THIS is that time of the year when starting jobs in the fall are often won. But, when asked which of his Wildcats had done that this spring, Pat Fitzgerald mentioned but a handful of names. He mentioned defensive linemen Dean Lowry and Deonte Gibson. He mentioned offensive lineman Geoff Mogus. He mentioned corners Matthew Harris and Nick VanHoose. He mentioned middle linebacker Anthony Walker ("Probably, at this point). He mentioned that, at wide receiver, "You're going to see guys you've always seen (Christian Jones, Miles Shuler, Cameron Dickerson) and the same thing at superback (Dan Vitale)."


The 'Cats, then, are (to use a phrase favored by coaches everywhere) still very much a work in progress.


THAT, of course, is especially true at quarterback, where there is an open competition between fifth-year senior Zack Oliver, redshirt sophomore Matt Alviti and redshirt freshman Clayton Thorson. "I've liked the way I've seen all three guys compete and progress, and I look forward to seeing the next step as we move forward in the evaluation," Fitzgerald said of them.


THORSON, after experiencing his first spring at Northwestern, said, "I learned how I had to learn. It's a process, learning plays, learning about defenses. There's a lot of things I can improve on. But it definitely was a good learning experience."


Alviti, asked what he will work on during the summer, said, "Anticipation, anticipating throws better, throwing on time. I think that comes with trust with the receivers, getting in and working extra routes. Just confidence. We all need confidence. That's what the whole team needs right now to beat Stanford (in their opener) in the fall."


Oliver, asked the same, said, "Just going in every day and just working on the ins-and-outs of the game. You can never really be satisfied with your game at any point in your career. You could ask Peyton Manning and he'd probably tell you the same thing. So it's keep going in, keep working on my footwork, keep working on my arm strength and be ready to go in fall ball."


Oliver also said that, despite their rivalry, "We're still great buddies. I don't think that's ever going to change."


THEIR foundation, the offensive line, is anchored by Mogus, a two-year starter at guard who this spring worked at left tackle. The oft-injured Shane Mertz, a lifetime tackle, has spent his time at right guard, and Saturday Fitzgerald said, "I like the spring (he) has had." He also said, "I like what both centers (Brad North and Ian Park) have done."


But, when concluding his assessment of this most-important group, he finally said, "It's a work in progress."


RUNNING BACK Justin Jackson, so impressive last fall as a true freshman, missed much of this spring after getting some minor surgery. "An oil change" is what Fitzgerald called it. But, on Saturday, he recalled recently telling his staff that this position was still as competitively deep as they've ever had with the presences of Warren Long, Solomon Vault and Auston Anderson.


"So to see that, number one, is great," Fitzgerald said. "Now will they only play running back this year? I don't know. That group is going to compete to play, and it's going to be really fun to watch how that ends up playing out."


THIS was not a new observation by Fitzgerald. It instead echoed what he has often said this spring when considering (especially) speedsters Vault and Anderson. That, in turn, iterated one of this spring's themes, his desire to get the best 11 on the field.


"I don't know if there's been a greater emphasis," he said Saturday when asked about that. "But when you don't play in the postseason for a couple of years, obviously, even if you've started, it doesn't mean that you're at where you need to be to help us win and compete for a championship and get in the postseason.


"Maybe when you look back a couple years ago, we had some experienced guys and they weren't going to get beat out. That wasn't going to happen. Well, you know what? There wasn't anybody who was out on that field that was first team All-Big Ten last year. There wasn't a coach that was an Assistant-Coach-of-the-Year or a Head Coach-of-the-Year out on that field. So we've got a lot of work to do and I think if you embrace that and don't hide from it, own why we've had mistakes in the past, you can get better. That's what I've seen the guys do."


THIS spring ended then much as it had begun, with a bevy of starting positions still unsettled and with a number of decisions yet to be made. So when must those come? "Probably a week out. A week out from the opener," Fitzgerald said.


Stay tuned.


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