The first practice at Northwestern in full pads is always great to watch. It's the first time since March that the guys can go out and hit each other. It really makes you feel like football season is starting.
That said, coach Pat Fitzgerald was pleased with his team's intensity but knows there's a lot of work to do before the Wildcats open the season Sept. 3 at Boston College.
Fitzgerald also gave an update on Jacob Schmidt, who is healthy again after that left ankle injury he suffered against Michigan State last October.
"It's great to have him back. He missed the spring and the last half of . He has been one of our most consistent, physical players and one of our guys to count on. He walked on to our program and has been an unbelievable representative of our program."
The no-name linebacker corps might be taking shape -- with names. Fitzgerald said Bryce McNaul and Ben Johnson are competing for one of the outside spots, while Collin Ellis and Chi Chi Ariguzo are competing at the other outside spot. The middle spot, i.e. Quentin Davie's replacement, is up for grabs.
McNaul is healthy after off-season shoulder surgery, and Fitzgerald said the key to the senior's success is staying healthy. McNaul told me Thursday that he is probably in the best shape of his life, especially after shoulder surgery last winter.
"Last February they had to clean up my right shoulder and it was kind of less invasive than it sounded. They took my AC joint out -- which apparently I don't need -- and since then its felt great. Never felt better, actually. I couldn't be more exicted to let loose this season because of it."
And what does McNaul think of the defense's expectations?
"We're not in any position to hang our hat on anything we've done in the past," McNaul said. "And shame on us if we even wanted to. No-name linebackers? So be it. We'll show up on Saturday and people will know we're there."