Watch the Northwestern offense during spring practice and it doesn't look that much different than last season. Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian continue to share snaps at quarterback. Running back Venric Mark is a blur with the ball under his arm. The receiving corps returns minus Demetrius Fields.
Coach Pat Fitzgerald will have to replace Patrick Ward and Brian Mulroe up front. Right tackle Jack Konopka is recovering from injuries this spring but will move to left tackle in time for fall camp.
Guard Brandon Vitabile is a two-year starter who is also expected to ready for training camp.
In the meantime, Fitzgerald is getting a long look at some players who could be key contributors down the road.
"We recruited well there," Fitzgerald said of his young linemen. "Obviously, Brandon is the mainstay now with the group. He has played a ton of football. He has been incredibly critical with himself with the way he's executing the little things. He's at that point in his career. He's doing a really good job. To his left, I like the way Geoff Mogus and Adam DePietro have been playing. They've done a really good job from a standpoint of competing and trying to execute what Adam is asking them to do. On the right side, Ian Park has done a really good job. Ian has had a terrific spring. Hayden Baker has done a good job at center and at guard and then on the right side, we've had [Eric] Olsen starting things off and Shane [Mertz] on the left side. The whole group has done a really good job. Now, I say that from a standpoint of where we are at currently. We're in about Chapter 3. They've done well. They've handled things well."
Offensive line coach Adam Cushing's mantra this spring is, "When in doubt, hit somebody."
"They are finally getting over being afraid to fail, and being analytical," Fitzgerald said. "It's a very bright group. Adam does a great job of emphasizing that it's better to be decisive than it is to be right. Go put your face on somebody and Venric and our backs and Kain and Trevor will make you right. If you're out there, 'Who do I block,' that garbage, well, that's what young guys do. They've done a good job of cutting it lose and making some mistakes and learning from it and not repeating them at a high level. They have repeated at a lower level and that shows some progress and is encouraging."