Spring preseason football is starting a new chapter at Northwestern, as the Wildcats initiate their practices for the first time in 2016. Coach Pat Fitzgerald commented on the state of the team during preseason, as well as its prospects for the incoming 2016 season. Fitzgerald conveyed a few things worth mentioning this season, including major injuries, position changes, as well as new players.
For starters, five Northwestern players will miss spring preseason practices because of injuries, one of which includes quarterback Matt Alviti. The quarterback’s injury is one of the most troubling for coach Fitzgerald this season, as Alviti will miss the majority of spring football due to a hip surgery suffered earlier in 2015. Alviti will finally be cleared to practice by June or July. His role in the team will depend largely on how his condition progresses throughout the summer months.
According to Fitzgerald though, the quarterback position will almost surely be filled by Clayton Thorson this season. Based on Thorson’s play last season, as well as his play in offseason practices, Thorson has convinced his team on his abilities as quarterback. “It’s a long way between now and the opener, so I don’t have a crystal ball to predict where things may go. But I would be shocked if that were to change,” said the Wildcats’ coach.
As for the rest of the team, Fitzgerald will make four major changes in the Wildcats’ formation this upcoming year. These moves will consist of moving players between different positions within the defense and offense, as well as moving players between both teams. Of the most noteworthy of these changes, Northwestern plans to move Ben Oaxley from defensive tackle to offensive tackle, Solomon Vault from running back to wide receiver, and defensive backs Marcus Shepherd and Steven Reese also to wide-receiver.
The coach’s chess-like moves are made in an effort to improve the Wildcats’ offensive abilities. “I don’t have to be Captain Obvious to tell you we have to get better at throwing the ball.” said Fitzgerald in an interview with media sources. McShepard and Reese’s moves were specifically designated to add some much needed potency to the team’s offense, making overall better use of the players’ talents. Running-back depth is one of the coach’s least worrisome team factors, hence Vault’s move to wide-receiver.
The Northwestern coach also commented on the situation of a few key players, and their development for the upcoming season. Xavier Washington, Ifeadi Odenigbo, and Jelani Roberts need to develop further to become more well-rounded players. With that development the coach mentions, they can become solid starters, improving the team’s overall aspirations in the 2016 season.
Fitzgerald in the past has faced backlash over his offensive calling, and the team’s sometimes weak offensive rapport. However, the Northwestern coach is confident in the team’s strength in the upcoming season.
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