Preview 2009 - Offense
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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.
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
Unsung star on the rise: Redshirt freshman OT Neal
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
Weakness of the offense:
Passing game, Receiver
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
Weakness: 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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
Weakness: 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
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.