2009 Northwestern Preview - Offense
Northwestern WR Andrew Brewer
Northwestern WR Andrew Brewer
Posted Jun 2, 2009

CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Northwestern Wildcat Offense

Northwestern Wildcats

Preview 2009 - Offense

- 2009 CFN Northwestern Preview | 2009 Northwestern Offense
- 2009 Northwestern Defense | 2009 Northwestern Depth Chart
- 2008 NU Preview | 2007 NU Preview | 2006 NU Preview 

What you need to know ...
Under offensive coordinator, Mick McCall, the Wildcats tried to hurry things up to get the top playmakers in space. The results were mixed. The attack was fine, but was nothing special. Now it'll have to undergo a fundamental change based on personnel with C.J. Bacher gone, and running quarterback Mike Kafka under center. Kafka can throw, but he's not the best of passers and will make most of his big plays with his legs. While the receiving corps isn't starting from scratch, it needs several unproven players to produce after the loss of the top three targets, Ross Lane, Eric Peterman and Rasheed Ward. Tyrell Sutton is gone, but Stephen Simmons, Alex Daniel, and Jeravin Matthews are three very quick, very good looking backs who should keep the running game going behind the team's strength, the line. Four starters return up front with versatility, depth, and athleticism on the very good line.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Mike Kafka
32-46, 330 yds, 2 TD, 3 INT
Rushing: Mike Kafka
68 carries, 321 yds, 1 TD
Receiving: Andrew Brewer
35 catches, 305 yds, 2 TD

Star of the offense: Senior QB Mike Kafka
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior WR Andrew Brewer
Unsung star on the rise: Redshirt freshman OT Neal Deiters
Best pro prospect: Deiters
Top three all-star candidates: 1) OT Al Netter, 2) RB Stephen Simmons, 3) OT/OG Desmond Taylor
Strength of the offense: Offensive line, Quarterback mobility
Weakness of the offense:
Passing game, Receiver


Projected Starter: It's Mike Kafka's show now after stepping in late last year and completing 69% of his throws for 330 yards and two touchdowns with three interceptions. While he'll never be a bomber of a passer, he showed he could be effective when needed completing 12-of-16 throws for 143 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions in the win over Minnesota, but his real talent is as a runner, finishing second on the team with 321 yards and a touchdown on just 68 carries. He set the Northwestern and Big Ten record for rushing yards for a quarterback with 217 yards against the Gophers. At 6-3 and 215 pounds, he has good size to go along with his excellent mobility.

Projected Top Reserves: Right on Kafka's heels for the starting job is 6-1, 200-pound sophomore Dan Persa. He was the first player in Pennsylvania high school history to run for over 1,000 yards and threw for over 2,000 yards in the same season, but he hasn't been able to show off his skills yet on the field. Ultra-competitive, he's going to keep fighting for playing time, and he could get it if Kafka struggles at all. Extremely fast, he makes up for his lack of a big arm with his good speed. 

Watch Out For ... Persa. It's not like Kafka set the world on fire this offseason, and while he has had his chances to shine, he hasn't always been able to produce on a steady basis. Persa could see time sooner than later.
Strength: Mobility. The Wildcats have had quarterbacks who could run over the last several years, but they haven't had rushing options like Kafka and Persa. Either one of them could end up being the team's most dangerous rushing option.
Weakness: Reliability. Kafka got knocked out of the Michigan game with a concussion, and it's not like he's going to be running less or taking fewer shots. Persa has been great at times in practice, but he hasn't done anything yet in game action.
Outlook: While the team will miss the passing of C.J. Bacher, Kafka should be just efficient enough to keep things moving. He won't bomb away for 300 yards a game, but he'll dink and dunk his way to an effective year. His passes fluttered a bit too much and he won't always be accurate when he has to push the ball down the field, but he'll make up for his issues with his running. Persa is a promising backup who'll be a factor at some point this season.
Rating: 6.5

Running Backs

Projected Starter: With Tyrell Sutton and Omar Conteh gone, it'll be time for junior Stephen Simmons to shine. He struggled to do too much thanks to an ankle injury, rushing for 178 yards and two scores and catching an 11-yard pass. At 5-8 and 175 pounds, he's not big, but he's one of the team's fastest players and he should tear off yards in chunks now that he's healthy. While he didn't do too much for the offense, he averaged 22.1 yards per try as the team's best kickoff returner.

Projected Top Reserves: About to be a star whenever he gets his chance is Jeravin Matthews, a 5-11, 170-pound sophomore who was great on special teams averaging 23.2 yards per kickoff return on just six tries and was a demon on the coverage teams. Now he'll do more as a runner after originally being looked at as a receiver. The speed and quickness are there, but he'll need to prove he can handle the banging.

6-0, 195-pound redshirt freshman Alex Daniel had a fantastic spring after starring for the scout team last year. A Georgia all-star high school runner with 4,364 yards and 46 touchdowns, he's a tough back for his size with tremendous speed. He'll be used in a variety of ways with the toughness to block and the hands to catch.

Watch Out For ... more flash. Defenses are going to have to focus on the quarterbacks running out of the backfield, and there should be holes opened up for the quick backs to blow through. Quickness and burst aren't a problem for the Wildcat backs.
Strength: Speed. Durability shouldn't be too big a concern, at least not like last year, with three backs who can all do roughly the same thing. Making big things happen when there's a little bit of an opening will be a must for a trio this fast.
Weakness: Proven production. Simmons was fine late in the year when he had to be, but he hasn't had to be a workhorse for long stretches. Even with all his speed and skills, he didn't do too much to come up with big runs. Matthews and Daniel are wet behind the ears.
Outlook: The pressure is off the running backs to carry the ground game thanks to running quarterbacks in Mike Kafka and Dan Persa, but that doesn't mean they'll play second fiddle. There isn't a Tyrell Sutton in the group, but Simmons has tremendous talent and Daniel and Matthews were fantastic this offseason.
Rating: 6.5


Projected Starters: 6-3, 215-pound Andrew Brewer has spent his career figuring out what he's doing. After making 18 catches for 145 yards in a spot-starter rule, the senior will move to the Ross Lane's old spot on the outside where he's more than due to become a top target. A former quarterback, he threw for 344 yards and four interceptions, and ran for 202 yards and three touchdowns, in 2006, and then he missed all of 2007 with a broken arm.

Sophomore Jeremy Ebert showed excellent upside in his first season catching 15 passes for 161 yards and two touchdowns. He also saw time on special teams and can be used as a kick returner. He's just now starting to figure out what he's doing after spending his high school career at quarterback, and the transition is going smoothly. While he'll start off at the Y, he could move to the outside whenever needed.

Taking over on the inside H spot will be Zeke Markshausen, a 5-11, 180-pound senior who only made one catch or six yards in his limited work. A good practice player over his career, he hasn't been able to see the field. Now he'll get his shot where he needs to be a steady route runner and use his good hands to grab everything that comes his way.

Junior Sidney Stewart will move to the outside X position coming off a 17-catch, 134-yard, one score season. While he has the wheels to get deep, he only averaged 7.9 yards per catch and has yet to reach his prep hype. A great recruit for the program four years ago, he has 5-11, 185-pound size and excellent, game-breaking-type speed. Now he has to put it all together and produce. 

Projected Top Reserves: Northwestern doesn't use a true fullback and it rarely keeps a tight end in the game, but it has a "Superback" playing a hybrid of the two positions. Junior Josh Rooks didn't do too much for the receiving game catching just seven passes for 46 yards and two touchdowns , but he was a good blocker. At 6-6 and 265 pounds, he has bulked up over the last few years and will be an even bigger factor for the ground game.

Mostly a special teamer so far, 5-11, 180-pound sophomore Charles Brown made just two catches for 14 yards last season. Now he'll work in a rotation with Markshausen at the H. Very quick and physical enough to handle himself well on the inside, he could take over the starting spot sooner than later.

6-0, 200-pound redshirt freshman Demetrius Fields is a speedster for the outside at the X. While he's not going to push Stewart out of a job, he's tough, can take a shot, and will be used in a variety of ways. The brother of Kansas star target, Dexton Fields, Demetrius will eventually be one of the team's go-to targets.

Watch Out For ... the Superback. The coaches have said the tight end/H-Back/Superback has to get the ball more, and with a passing game that'll work more on the short to medium passes than it has over the last few years, there will be a bigger role for a 265-pound short-range target like Rooks.
Strength: Route running. There isn't a lot of proven production returning, but there are good, sound route runners who have been good enough in practices to offer hope that the completion percentage should be high. They won't make a slew of mistakes.
Production. Ross Lane, Eric Peterman, Rasheed Ward, and RB Tyrell Sutton were the team's top four targets last year making 205 of the team's 279 catches for 2,208 of the team's 2,817 passing yards and 14 of the 20 touchdown grabs. The receiving corps is all but starting from scratch.
Outlook: This will be a problem. Last year's receiving corps was full of veteran and had a passer in C.J. Bacher to get things moving. Now the offense will have a running quarterback under center; it's not like the new receivers are going to make the passing game better. A go-to, No. 1 target has to emerge right away, that might be Brewer, and someone has to stretch the field for a passing game that averaged 10.1 yards per completion.
Rating: 5.5

Offensive Linemen

Projected Starters: The line has to replace one starter, left guard Keegan Kennedy. While he won't be a sure thing to get the starting job, 6-2, 295-pound junior Keegan Grant will get a long look after missing almost all of last year with an ankle injury. The former walk-on is one of the team's stronger linemen and is good enough to play either guard spot, and if he comes through, it'll open up several options for the rest of the line.

If Grant is solid at right guard, that'll mean Desmond Taylor can stay at right tackle. He started two games early on at guard, but played the final 11 on the outside where he was solid in pass protection and great on the move. While he's not massive at 6-3 and 285 pounds, he's a good athlete who is a nice fit for the inside because of his ability to pull and get on the move and make things happen down the field, but will be better at tackle. He has a slight knee injury to get over, but it isn't considered serious.

Back at right guard is 6-4, 285-pound sophomore Doug Bartels, a former walk-on who started the final nine games of last year and was the biggest shock of the line. He was surprisingly consistent and tough for the running game, and he's also versatile with the smarts and ability to move inside to center if needed.

Sophomore Al Netter started every game last year at left tackle showing why he was one of the team's top recruits of 2007. At 6-6 and 290 pounds, he has the prototype size and athleticism. Now that he has a year of experience, he's expected to grow into a possible all-star. He didn't make a lot of mistakes, playing like a seasoned veteran, and now he has the potential to be an anchor.

Back at center after starting every game is Ben Burkett, a 6-4, 285-pound sophomore who bulked up over the last year and should be even stronger for the ground game. He turned out to be the perfect fit for the hurry-up style of play with good athleticism and quickness. He'll be an All-Big Ten performer before his career is done. 

Projected Top Reserves:
Senior Kurt Mattes will find a spot at one of the tackle slots. The 6-6, 295-pound veteran started two games last season at right tackle before suffering a knee injury, and he was never able to get the job back. A good athlete for his size, he'll be a key all-around blocker on the outside now that he's had time to get healthy again.

Very quickly, redshirt freshman Neal Deiters is becoming a major factor and could end up being good enough to shake things up by taking over the left tackle job. At 6-8 and 315 pounds, he's very big and very athletic. He was a fantastic get for the program, and he showed why this spring as he showed star potential. While he'll go into the fall as a key backup, that might change in a big hurry.

Watch Out For ... a lot of different combinations. Will it be Taylor at right tackle or at left guard? Will Deiters be too good to keep out of the starting lineup, and if so, where will Netter move to? How will Mattes figure into the mix? This isn't a negative.
Strength: Young veterans. Northwestern has the luxury of returning a ton of starting experience while also being able to build toward the future. With three sophomore starters and a redshirt freshman in Deiters who could start, the future is bright.
One absolute, sure-thing anchor. There are plenty of promising young talents who are just starting to mature into the best they can be, but there isn't any one blocker who stands out among the rest as an all-star. That will change, but at the moment, this is a collection of very good players without an elite one.
Outlook: Offensive line coach Adam Kushing has a wonderful group of players to build around. This is a young, versatile, athletic group that should be able to grow into something special as the year goes on. While there might be some playing around with the lineup, the versatility will help offset any major injury issues. Next year, after a little more seasoning, this might be one of Northwestern's best lines ever.
Rating: 7.5