Fitzgerald releases depth chart (but only because he has to)
Pat Fitzgerald released his depth chart today, but only because he had to. If it were up to the Northwestern coach, he would list the depth chart alphabetically, like he did in the preseason.
There were some mild surprises as the Wildcats begin preparations for Saturday opener at Syracuse, like at superback, where true freshman and former Wheaton-Warrenville South standout Danny Vitale is listed as the starter. USC transfer Kyle Prater is listed as the No. 2 X receiver behind Tony Jones and sophomore Jack Konopka won the job at right tackle while senior Chuck Porcelli becomes a starter for the first time at right guard.
Venric Mark won the job at tailback, although Mike Trumpy can expect plenty of carries with Mark also returning kicks and punts. Treyvon Green is also in the mix.
Here's a look at the depth chart. I've also included Fitzgerald's comments when appropriate.
Quarterback: Kain Colter is the starter and Trevor Siemian the backup. Siemian is the better pure thrower and will likely see some time, especially since Colter also excels at running back and receiver. However, Fitzgerald has been playing it straight in camp thus far with Colter focusing on playing quarterback, although the triple threat knows the running back and receiver positions well enough that he could make those transitions quickly.
"Both young men we believe we can win with," Fitzgerald said. "They are both dynamic enough, they know every aspect of our offense, they have a great grasp of what we do and how we do things. ... What I expect from both guys is No. 1, take what the defense gives them, don't force things. Execute what the design and concept calls for and then have fun."
Tailback: Mark is the starter, followed by Trumpy, who Fitzgerald said has completely healed from ACL surgery.
"I think Michael is all the way back," Fitzgerald said. "When I look at our depth it's probably as solid as we've had maybe to start the season. What has Venric done? He's been very consistent. He has gone out and been very solid in the run game, he has been outstanding in his approach to the daily grind of that position. Now that he has been over there a while he has been solid in his protections. Obviously, with his skill set, he can catch the ball out of the backfield.
"How deep will we go? I don't know. We'll see. We're going to play a lot of guys. How many is that? Is it 3, is it 4? We'll see. Whoever gets the hot hand. We'd loved to have a guy kind of be the bell cow and right now Venric gets the ball first."
X receiver: Tony Jones and Kyle Prater.
"He'll be in our wide receiver rotation and we'll go from there," Fitzgerald said of the sophomore Prater, who may be the best pure athlete on the roster. "It's really helped him that he was here for spring. If he would've missed spring practice that would've been a challenge. It's a completely different scheme from what he was in at his previous school. It has been more about getting healthy and getting out there and getting enough reps to get experience in the offense. He's gaining on it. Is he where he wants to be? Probably not yet but he's gaining on it and has improved since the start of camp. This will be a progression. He hasn't played a lot of football in the last two years."
Y receiver: Demetrius Fields, Pierre Youngblood.
H receiver: Christian Jones, Mike Jensen.
Z receiver: Rashad Lawrence, Cameron Dickerson.
Right tackle: Konopka, Paul Jorgensen.
Konopka played superback last season and maybe the best athlete in the offensive line group, although he lacks experience.
Right guard: Porcelli, Matt Frazier.
Center: Brandon Vitabile, Hayden Baker.
Left guard: Brian Mulroe, Geoff Mogus.
Left tackle: Patrick Ward, Jorgensen.
Superback: Vitale, Mark Szott.
"He came in and grasped the offense quickly," Fitzgerald said of Vitale. "He has been probably our most consistent superback. We told the whole group this position is wide open after Drake [Dunsmore] graduated and whoever seizes the roll through consistency on a day-to-day basis is going to have it. Am I ready to say Danny is Drake? No, but he's earned the right to go out there first."
Dean Lowry will get a chance to rush the passer as a true freshman. The 6-foot-6, 230-pounder from Rockford-Boylan had an impressive camp and can help a defense that registered only 17 sacks last season.
Fitzgerald is confident this unit will bounce back after a 2011 season that saw the Wildcats ranked near the bottom of the Big Ten in many defensive categories.
"I feel great about the defense," he said. "They have worked with a chip on their shoulder. We've improved our depth. We're athletic and can run. Now we have to go out and execute. We have to communicate better than we did last year. Then, obviously, the hallmark of any defense is playing with relentless effort and tackling. If you do those two things you're going to create turnovers. We've worked hard to try to solve the issues we had. We've worked hard through recruiting and work in the weight room in the summer to add depth and, fundamentally and schematically, the young men have worked their tails off with their coaches. Hopefully, they will go out and perform on Saturday. I hope the task was going to be easy but it's going to be a challenge."
Left defensive end: Quentin Williams, Lowry.
Defensive tackle: Brian Arnfelt, Sean McEvilly.
"He's incredibly respected by his teammates because of the way he works," Fitzgerald said of Arnfelt, who was voted a team captain by his teammates despite an injury marred career. "He's overcome a ton of adversity with injuries. He has stayed the course. Last year was hard. We all thought he would be ready to start the season. It just didn't heal like he wanted it to. Then he got back on the field after not playing for a while and got hurt again. It was a difficult road. ... When he has been healthy he has been a playmaker for us. It's great to have that kind of size (6-5, 300 pounds). With Arney, I'm expecting big things."
Defensive tackle: Will Hampton, Chance Carter.
Right defensive end: Tyler Scott, Deonte Gibson.
Sam linebacker: Chi Chi Ariguzo, Drew Smith.
Mike linebacker: Damien Proby, Timmy Vernon.
Will linebacker: David Nwabuisi, Collin Ellis.
Cornerback: Nick VanHoose, Quinn Evans.
Cornerback: Demetrius Dugar, Daniel Jones.
Safety: Ibraheim Campbell, Jared Carpenter.
Safety: Davion Fleming, Jimmy Hall.
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