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2007 Northwestern Preview - Offense

CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Apr 1, 2007


Preview 2007 Northwestern Wildcat Offense

Northwestern Wildcats

Preview 2007
- Offense

- 2007 NU Preview | 2007 NU Defense Preview
-
2007 NU Depth Chart | 2006 CFN Northwestern Preview 

What you need to know ...
After a year of trying to get the quarterback situation straight, mostly due to an injury to C.J. Bacher early on, the offense should start to shine as long as there aren't major injury problems up front. The line, with four good starters returning led by center Trevor Rees and tackle Dylan Thiry, will be one of the most effective in the Big Ten, but the developed depth isn't quite there yet. Tyrell Sutton will once again be one of the nation's best all-around backs and should be a lock for 1,000 yards for the third straight season. The big improvement should be in the passing game, as long as Bacher is healthy, with an interesting and promising group of receivers ready to emerge.

Returning Leaders
Passing: C.J. Bacher
95-161, 1,172 yards, 6 TD, 8 INT
Rushing: Tyrell Sutton
189 carries, 1,000 yds, 5 TD
Receiving: Tyrell Sutton
40 catches, 261 yds, 2 TD

Star of the offense: Junior RB Tyrell Sutton
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior WR Ross Lane
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore WR Andrew Brewer
Best pro prospect: Senior OT Dylan Thiry
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Sutton, 2) C Trevor Rees, 3) Thiry
Strength of the offense: Starting offensive line, running backs
Weakness of the offense:
Offensive line depth, proven number one receiver

Quarterbacks
Projected Starter: It took a little while for junior C.J. Bacher to finally take over the reins, and the Northwestern offense didn't exactly explode once he did, but the signs were there that he could potentially grow into the typical, productive Wildcat quarterback once he got more experience. He's not going to run as much as the coaching staff might want out of its quarterback, but he's a solid passer with a nice arm and the ability to put up big passing yards in the spread attack. His biggest problem is his health. He was named the starter going into last season but missed the first half of the year with a broken leg. This season me missed spring ball with a toe injury.

Projected Top Reserves: With C.J. Bacher's injury problems in the early part of his career, the chances will likely be there for someone else to see key snaps throughout the year. Sophomore Mike Kafka is a big, strong, athletic option who runs the ball better than Bacher or redshirt freshman Joe Mauro. He started the first four games of last season and had some big moments highlighted by a 111-yard rushing day in a loss to Nevada, but he struggled with his passing consistency. While he was deadly accurate in the opener against Miami University completing 13 of 17 passes and a touchdown, he had problems the rest of the way failing to throw another scoring pass while giving away five picks. Mauro is a 6-4, 220-pound passer who'll get every chance to win the number two job.

Watch Out For ... the coaching staff to potentially mix up the quarterbacks to provide a few different looks. Kafka is too good a runner to keep on the sidelines all season long. Eventually, as a change of pace, the sophomore could see a little bit of time to add more for the ground game to take the heat off Tyrell Sutton.
Strength: Options. The quarterback shuffle of last year should pay off with experienced veterans who should make the offense more consistent. Bacher is the one to build the attack around for the next few seasons, but Kafka can step in at any time. If things get desperate, Andrew Brewer can move over from wide receiver.
Weakness: The passing game if Bacher goes down. Mauro isn't quite ready yet to lead a team to a bowl, and Kafka and Brewer make the offense one-dimensional.
Outlook: Northwestern always seems to get good quarterback play when its quarterbacks are experienced. Bacher might not be Zac Kustok or Brett Basanez running the ball, but he should be good for 200+ passing yards a game. 
Rating: 6.5

Running Backs

Projected Starter: It was almost like the coaching staff wanted to knock Tyrell Sutton down only to build him back up again. It was just assumed Sutton would be the main man in the offense coming off a tremendous 1,474-yard, 18 total touchdown freshman season, but it wasn't until the eighth game of last year before he got 20 carries (partly because the running quarterbacks took work away before C.J. Bacher took over under center). Then he ran like the Sutton of old ripping off three 100-yard games in the final five and set the tone to be an All-America caliber star this season. While he can be a workhorse, he's at his best when he's able to work his way in and out of jams, find the hole, and dart through. He's been a hard enough worker this off-season to impress Pat Fitzgerald and earn the trust to handle the ball more.

The Wildcats also use a "Superback," or a combination tight end/fullback. 240-pound sophomore Mark Woodsum, a special teamer last season, will take over the role. He'll mostly be used as a blocker early on and then be key in the short passing game.

Projected Top Reserves: Little used senior Brandon Roberson will likely start seeing more work to give Sutton a breather. While he's not a pounder, he's a tough 5-9, 200 pounds with decent enough quickness to be given a look as a kick returner. With only 214 career yards on 42 carries, he's still a bit of an unknown if he has to carry the load for any length of time.

Junior Omar Conteh has a bit more size than Roberson and a nice burst, but he'll mostly be used on special teams early on when he returns from off-season surgery. Redshirt freshman Stephen Simmons is a potential bolt of lightning if used the right way. While he's only 5-8 and 180 pounds, he's one of the team's faster players and could grow into a great receiving option in time.

Watch Out For ... Sutton being used a whole bunch more. So far in his young career he's had seven games with 20 or more carries and he's run for over 100 yards each time. With Bacher not a threat to take away many carries, Sutton will be the workhorse with the hope for Roberson, Conteh and Simmons to combine for ten carries a game to find a hot number two back.
Strength: Quickness. All the backs can dart, change pace on a dime, and crank out yards in chunks. If the spread offense works as expected and they're matched up one-on-one in the open field, they'll win most of the battles.
Weakness: There's no go-to power. Sutton's tough as nails, but he's not the ideal back to get the fourth and one with the game on the line. The Superbacks, Mark Woodsum and Brendan Mitchell, have to fill the short yardage role.
Outlook: As long as Sutton's healthy, Northwestern will have one of the Big Ten's most effective running games. With his receiving skills, the coaching staff can play around with plenty of different formations. The quicker a reliable number two man develops, the easier everyone will breathe every time Sutton gets the ball.
Rating: 8

Receivers

Projected Starters: The receiving corps went through a transitional period last season needing to replace most of the top starters, and it didn't help that the quarterback situation was in an even bigger state of flux. Now the group should be ready to shine even without top target Shaun Herbert to rely on anymore. Junior Ross Lane is 6-3 with excellent athleticism and nice hands. Now he has to put it all together and focus week in and week out on being a number one receiver after making 30 grabs for 401 yards and two touchdowns, both against Michigan State. While he has the speed to be a deep threat, his job at the Z position will be to make plays all over the field and be the focus of the secondary.

Junior Rasheed Ward has to turn into a field stretcher. He disappeared from the game-plan for most of last year before closing out with four catches against both Ohio State and Illinois. The starter on the outside X spot, he has to prove early on that he's worth of occupying the attention of opposing safeties to open things up in the middle. So far over the last two years, he hasn't been able to do that.

The X factor at the Y position will be Andrew Brewer, a quarterback by trade with good enough all-around skills to find a spot for somewhere on the field. He's not enough of a passer to make a serious run at the starting quarterback job, so the coaching staff will continue to keep the 6-3, 210-pound sophomore in the slot, where he saw a little time at the end of last season making one catch for 48 yards against Iowa. Under center, he ran for 202 yards and three touchdowns while completing a mere 50% of is passes for 344 yards and touchdowns in four games of work.

While the Wildcats don't normally employ a true tight end, they like to use the "Superback" and an H-Back to serve the same role. Sophomore walk-on Mark Woodsum is more of a blocking fullback who'll be used to blow open holes for Tyrell Sutton, while 6-3, 250-pound sophomore Brendan Mitchell will be more of a pass-catching tight end. He's a physical player who'll grow into a key blocker.

At the H, Eric Peterman will be more of a receiver than a tight end. The 6-1, 200-pound junior has the speed and cutting ability to play corner, which he was moved to early on last season, but he wants to be a receiver. He finished fourth on the team in receptions catching 23 passes for 349 yards and a touchdown averaging 15.2 yards per catch. He'll be a field stretcher from the inside.

Projected Top Reserves: Senior Kim Thompson is the team's most experienced receiver, and the fastest, but he hasn't been much of a game-breaker with only 34 career catches for 510 yards and two touchdowns. Appearing to be all set for a big 2006, he broke his foot and was never right early on. Academic problems and personal issues kept him off the team for the last two months, but now he has everything back together, is in the good graces of the coaching staff, and he should become a huge contributor at the X along with Rasheed Ward.

The faster redshirt freshman Sidney Stewart lives up to his potential, the better. A good recruit for the program two years ago, Stewart will see special teams work early on while backing up Ross Lane at the Z position. He doesn't have Lane's size, but he's an excellent athlete.

Redshirt freshman Carl Fisher will back up Andrew Brewer at the Y, but he could move around if he can start making the tough catches on a regular basis. Junior Jeff Yarbrough caught four passes for 24 yards last season after having a slew of injury issues. When he's right, he's one of the team's fastest players able to play the X or the H.

Watch Out For ... Andrew Brewer. He embraced the idea of moving from quarterback to receiver where he has the potential to create all sorts of mismatch problems. With a great knowledge of the offense, and the size and athleticism to crank out big yards after the catch, he should grow into a dangerous weapon.
Strength: Options. This is a versatile group with good athleticism and loads of potential. There's size inside and out, depth, and just enough speed to start to make more big plays. As long as Bacher is throwing, the receivers will be in a position to make big plays.
Weakness
:
A true go-to number one target. Ross Lane will likely fill that role, but he hasn't had to be the guy yet. It might take a game or two before Bacher has one receiver he knows can make the first down catch every time. There isn't a proven, jaw-dropping deep threat even with all the quickness at all the positions.
Outlook: The potential is there for a big season as long as the quarterback situation is stable. There are enough weapons to spread the ball around and find the mismatches, and as long as the coaching staff can put the pieces in the right places, this should be one of the program's most productive corps in the last few years.
Rating: 6.5

Offensive Linemen

Projected Starters: The anchor is senior center Trevor Rees, who was decent early on before finishing strong. While not a huge steamroller at 6-2 and 280 pounds, he's tough, quick, and experienced starting for two years, missing 2005 with academic problems, and starting again all of last year. Back in the doghouse after a DUI, he's a bit of a question mark for the opener.

The other star is 6-8, 315-pound senior left tackle Dylan Thiry, who turned into dominant pass blocker as the year went on. He's not the strongest run blocker around and he can get pushed around a little bit, but his long arms and good first step are effective against most speed rushers.

Senior Adam Crum started the last four games of the season at right guard and turned into a strong run blocker. The former walk-on is versatile enough to play either guard spot or center, and while the Alaska native isn't huge at 6-1 and 285 pounds, he's effective.

With Crum likely to start out at left guard, junior Joel Belding, who started over most of the first half of the season before a death in the family, and the emergence of Crum, kept him out of the starting mix, will start on the right. He's back as one of the team's bigger linemen at 6-3 and 300 pounds, and while he's not the best pass blocker around, he's strong in the running game at either guard spot or center, if needed.

The real question mark is at right tackle where sophomore Kurt Mattes will get the first look at replacing Ryan Keenan at right tackle, but he'll be in for a battle with four other prospects battling for the fifth spot. Mattes was a top recruit for the Wildcats a few years ago, but he hasn't seen the field. At 6-6 and 290 pounds, he has good size and excellent athleticism; now he has to prove he can be a consistent blocker.

Projected Top Reserves: While four starting spots are all but locked up, it'll be an ongoing battle for the fifth slot. Mattes will likely get the right tackle gig, but sophomore Tyler Compton, a 6-5, 310-pound talent who missed last year due to academic issues, will get several chances to earn the spot. If he doesn't get it, he'll start out backing up Dylan Thiry on the left side.

Redshirt freshman Mike Boyle is the number two option at right tackle, and while he has the frame at 6-7 and 275 pounds, he has to get stronger without losing any of his athleticism. 6-4, 295-pound sophomore Ramon Diaz is versatile enough to play either spot on the right side getting the first look at guar behind Joel Belding.

Former defensive lineman Desmond Taylor will be a key reserve at both guard spots and could eventually work his way into the tackle rotation after being a top backup last season. 6-2, 295-pound redshirt freshman Keegan Grant is a mauler who could turn into something special after a year as an understudy behind Trevor Rees in the middle.

Watch Out For ... A little bit of shuffling even though 4/5ths of the line is secure. Rees will start at center and Thiry is the left tackle. The guards could flip-flop early on depending on who ends up being the fifth guy in the mix.
Strength: Experience among the starters. As long as injuries don't strike, this has the potential to be a tremendous line. The starters work well together and should only be better now that they, along with the skill players, now what they're doing in the Garrick McGee offense.
Weakness
:
Experienced depth. This likely won't be a problem after a few weeks considering how good Northwestern is at developing talent, but early on, there will be a big concern if the starters aren't getting the job done or if the right combination isn't found.
Outlook: While the line wasn't bad last season, it wasn't quite the killer it could've been with as much experience and talent as anyone in the Big Ten. Even so, the front five did a solid job considering all the problems at quarterback and, at times, the lack of a consistent commitment to the getting the running backs going in the ground game. This year's group should be one of the team's strengths as long as the fifth starter can quickly emerge and there isn't a slew of injuries early on.
Rating: 7

  

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