2010 Northwestern Preview - Offense
Northwestern OT Al Netter
Northwestern OT Al Netter
Posted May 13, 2010

CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - Northwestern Wildcat Offense

Northwestern Wildcats

Preview 2010 - Offense

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What You Need To Know: The offense finished first in the Big Ten in passing, but it did nothing on the ground and had a nightmare of a time manufacturing points. This year's attack loses QB Mike Kafka and the top two receivers, but overall the pieces are a better fit for what offensive coordinator Mike McCall wants to do. The deep, veteran line should be much better, but the backs have to be more productive and they have to stay healthy. Dan Persa is a good-looking dual threat quarterback who won't be Kafka throwing the ball, but he'll be a playmaker on the ground. The receivers are promising and there's speed and quickness among the backs, but consistency will be the key to an offense that sputtered far too often.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Dan Persa
20-34, 224 yds, 2 TD, 2 INT
Rushing: Arby Fields
82 carries, 302 yds, 5 TD
Receiving: Drake Dunsmore
47 catches, 523 yds, 3 TD

Star of the offense: Junior QB Dan Persa
Player who has to step up and be a star: Sophomore RB Arby Fields
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore OT Patrick Ward
Best pro prospect: Junior OT Al Netter
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Netter, 2) TE Drake Dunsmore, 3) Persa
Strength of the offense: Veteran Line, Quick Back
Weakness of the offense: Proven Rushing Production, Veteran Passing Game


Projected Starter: Taking over for Philadelphia Eagle draft pick, Mike Kafka, is junior Dan Persa, a 6-1, 210-pound dual-threat option with a little bit of experience and good upside. While he's not Kafka as a passer, he showed this offseason that he's ready to become a major producer on his own with nice touch and great running skills. He was the first player in Pennsylvania high school history to run for over 1,000 yards and throw for over 2,000 in the same season, and now he'll get his shot to hold down the gig for the next two years after completing 20-of-34 passes for 224 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions, and running for 167 yards, in a limited time last year. Very fast, he makes up for his lack of a big arm with great speed.

Projected Top Reserves: While not the runner that Dan Persa is, 6-6, 235-pound redshirt freshman Evan Watkins has the much bigger arm and is the far more dangerous passing option. He was a great recruit for the program and will be groomed for the starting job over the next few years, and he could step in when needed if the offense needs a spark to comeback with more passing. He made a big jump in his ease with the offseason over the last year, and he's ready to see time.

True freshman Trevor Sieman is a 6-3, 185-pound passer out of Florida who threw for 6,144 career yards with 53 touchdown passes, and while he's thin, he has a live arm and can put the ball all over field. While he's a passer, new recruit Kain Colter is more of a runner and a dual-threat option. He missed most of last year with a shoulder injury, but he's healthy now and is too good an athlete to not consider for other positions. If he's not a quarterback, he could be a whale of a defensive back.

Watch Out For … more running from the quarterback. Oddly enough, the concern about Kafka was whether or not he could throw on a consistent basis, and he ended up being drafted in the fourth round. He finished second on the team with 295 rushing yards, and Persa will end up doing far more. He'll be a featured runner.
Strength: Interesting options. Persa is a good dual-threat option who should be ready to hit the ground running, while Watkins is a bomber who'll be Kafkaesqe at times when he gets his shot.
Weakness: Proven backups. Watkins should be fine if he's thrown into the fire, but he has yet to see any playing time and there's nothing behind him in the backup mix. The Wildcats have no interest in burning a redshirt season for Colter or Sieman.
Outlook: The passing game isn't going to finish 13th in the nation again and Kafka could be missed, but Persa is good enough to get the offense moving and might become a better fit for the attack. Watkins will be a great one in a few years, but the less he's needed, the better.
Unit Rating: 6.5

Running Backs

Projected Starters: The lead runner in the four-headed rushing monster will be sophomore Arby Fields, a 5-9, 200-pound speedster who led the team with a mere 302 yards and five touchdowns, and caught 17 passes for 79 yards. Cut-on-a-dime quick, he has the ability to do far more with more responsibility, but he failed to make a big splash over the second half of last year after being one of the team's most effective runners early on. He ran for a season-high 50 yards with a score against Illinois, and while he won't be a workhorse, the hope is for him to be more of a home-run hitter.

Projected Top Reserves: At 5-10 and 200 pounds, junior Jacob Schmidt isn't big but he provides a little bit of power. He was steadily used throughout last year finishing with 217 yards and a touchdown while catching 14 passes for 147 yards, and now he'll be the No. 2 back in the mix used more as a receiver and relief runner than as a lead back. He might have one or two big games, but he's not going to be a workhorse.

Senior Stephen Simmons is the team's most talented back, and he was supposed to be the next star in the progression of good Wildcat runners, but he struggled to stay healthy and wasn't as productive as he needed to be when he got his chance. Banged up throughout the last two years, the 5-9, 185-pounder has only rushed for 408 career yards with four touchdowns, but he has been a dangerous kickoff returner with a career average of 24.4 yards per pop. One of the team's fastest players, when he's right, he should do far more than average 3.3 yards per carry.

5-10, 190-pound junior Scott Concannon managed to step in and produce late in the year when needed rushing for 73 yards against Indiana and 59 against Iowa. A no-nonsense rusher who tore off 241 yards and two scores (with both coming in the opener against Towson), he'll get a few carries here and there as part of the rotation, and he proved he can get the ball 15 times in an emergency.

Top recruit Adonis Smith was a great pickup out of Oakland with good toughness and tremendous deep speed. At 5-11 and 185 pounds, he's built more like a wide receiver, but the star high school sprinter should add more pop to the ground game and could be used as a kick and punt returner. One of the team's better athletes, he'll get a big look right away.

Watch Out For … another year of a rotation. Injuries and ineffectiveness forced a running-back-by-committee set up, and it should be more of the same with four, maybe five options all getting work to see who the hot hand is.
Strength: Quickness. Northwestern recruits to a type getting small, speedy backs who can hit the hole quickly and can break off big plays for the passing game. While there was none of that going on last year in an offense that cranked out a long run of only 25 yards and averaged three yards per carry, the potential is there to explode from time to time.
Weakness: Power. There isn't any. The smallish backs are at their best when they get room in space or get a hole to bust through, but there isn't anyone who can smash through a pile. There might be good toughness, but it's not like anyone will be physical enough to throw a scare into defensive fronts.
Outlook: A complete and total disaster last season, finishing averaging 118 rushing yards per game with five runners gaining over 200 yards on the year, but with no one getting more than 302, the ground game didn't work. Because of QB Dan Persa the ground game can't help but be better, but the several small backs in the mix have to be more productive. With a veteran line in front of them, there should be a nice improvement.
Unit Rating: 6


Projected Starters: Junior Jeremy Ebert was supposed to be a big part of the passing game, but he has struggled to stay healthy with a hip problem keeping him down. The 6-0, 185-pounder has tremendous upside with good hands to be a possession receiver and enough deep speed to stretch the field. He made 21 catches for 226 yards with six grabs coming against Auburn in the bowl. After spending his high school career as a quarterback, he now knows what he's doing and he could be a No. 1 target at the Y.

Senior Sidney Stewart grabbed a starting spot late in the year finishing fourth on the team with 42 catches for 470 yards and two touchdowns. The 6-1, 190-pounder has excellent deep speed and the potential to be more of a home run hitter after averaging 11.2 yards per grab. A great recruit for the program several years ago, the talent is there to go along with the experience, and now he'll see an expanded role coming off a ten-catch, 97-yard, one score performance against Auburn.

6-0, 205-pound sophomore Demetrius Fields came up with a decent year catching 24 passes for 225 yards and a score, averaging just 9.4 yards per grab. With decent size and good speed, he'll be used at the outside X position and will be asked to work more as a deep threat. Extremely athletic, he has the potential to grow into the role of a gamebreaker who can be the type of receiver who can throw a scare into secondaries.

Working in a Superback role, a hybrid of tight end and fullback, will once again be junior Drake Dunsmore , a 6-3, 235-pound junior who finished third last year (and is the team's leading returning receiver) with 47 catches for 523 yards and three scores. More of a receiving tight end than a blocker, he'll be even more of a safety valve coming off a steady year with nine catches against both Syracuse and Auburn. He has a shoulder problem he's trying to get past, but he's expected to be fine to start the season.

Projected Top Reserves: Junior Charles Brown is among the most experienced of the backup options and he could see more time in the rotation at the Y. Very quick with the toughness to handle himself on the inside, the 5-11, 185-pounder caught eight passes for 65 yards and now will do far more.

5-11, 180-pound redshirt freshman Drew Moulton would've been heavily recruited if he didn't suffer a torn ACL his junior year in high school. He roared back to come up with a big senior year, and now after a full two years away from the injury, he's ready to be a factor at the inside Z position with great hands and decent quickness when he gets the ball in his hands.

Working as a blocking tight end in the Superback role, 6-6, 265-pound senior Josh Rooks is a pounding blocker with just enough receiving skills to do more for the passing game. He caught three passes for 34 yards last year and was a tremendous special teamer. He's great in two tight end sets and is a more physical option than Drake Dunsmore.

Former walk-on Brendan Barber is expected to be a spot starter as well as a key part of the rotation on the X. The 6-2, 195-pound sophomore is a tough route runner and will be a good special teamer, but he's more of a physical target than a home run hitter.

Watch Out For … Ebert to come up with a big year. The hip problem has kept him down, but if he can finally come up with a fully healthy season he'll be tremendous. The passing game needs targets to replace Zeke Markshausen and Andrew Brewer, and Ebert should emerge as the new go-to guy.
Strength: Hands. Northwestern doesn't get elite receiver prospects, but as expected for a great academic institution, it brings in savvy, smart route runners who can all catch. Dropped passes were a problem in the recent pass, but that shouldn't be an issue with this group.
Weakness: Deep plays. Brewer averaged 16.2 yards per catch last year and he was the only receiver to consistently make big plays deep. With Dan Persa in place of Mike Kafka, and with Brewer gone, there isn't a ton of pop to the passing game meaning the receivers will have to become big yard-after-catch playmakers.
Outlook: The offense and the quarterback were better than the receivers last year, and now Kafka is gone with Marshausen and Brewer's 148 catches also out of the equation. Ebert, Stewart, Fields, and Dunsmore form a more-than-serviceable group that should be great at keeping the chains moving, but there won't be a lot of big plays. The passing game averaged 10.1 yards per completion last season, and it might struggle to hit that mark this year.
Unit Rating: 6.5

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: The line has to be far better, and it all starts with the play of junior Al Netter, the 6-6, 300-pound veteran started every game over the last two years and has shown glimpses of what he was one of the team's top recruits of 2007. He has the size and the athleticism, but he needs to be more of a rock in pass protection and has to be the one the line works around for the running game to get the speedy backs rolling. He wasn't bad, earning Honorable Mention All-Big Ten honors, but he has the potential to be special.

In what should be an interesting battle at left guard, sophomore Brian Mulroe has the inside track after starting the bowl game against Auburn. The 6-4, 280-pounder missed the first eight games of the year hurt, got healthy, and now is expected to be one of the team's stars up front with a bruising run blocking style and the athleticism to be a better pass protector.

Junior Ben Burkett has started every game over the last two seasons and now the 6-4, 285-pound center should be in the hunt for all-star honors.

There will be a fight for the starting right guard spot as former walk-on Doug Bartels has grown into a good starter. The 6-4, 300-pound junior started every game last year and has the versatility to move to center if needed. Surprisingly consistent and very tough, he's been stunningly good and will find playing time somewhere if he gets pushed out by Neil Deiters.

The budding star of the front five is sophomore Patrick Ward, a 6-7, 305-pound right tackle who saw time in every game last year and was good enough to jump in and take over the job from Deiters, moving him inside to guard. He didn't get any starts, but he showed the athleticism, along with the size, to grow into a rock on the outside and one of the team's key pass blockers.

Projected Top Reserves: Sophomore Neal Deiters will see plenty of action. The 6-8, 315-pound sophomore is built like a tackle, but he struggled in pass protection as he started the last seven games at right tackle last season. He's being moved inside to right guard and will combine forces with Doug Bartels as he also serves as a key backup on the outside. He'll be one of the team's most versatile and most important backups it he's not starting.

Senior Keegan Grant returned from an ankle injury to start most of last year at left guard. While the 6-2, 300-pounder has experience and is one of the team's strongest linemen, he didn't do enough for the ground game and will have to fight to get back into the rotation with Brian Mulroe the likely starter. Grant, a former walk-on, has a high motor and can play either guard spot, and he'll be a big part of the mix as a spot starter and a key reserve.

Watch Out For … a regular rotation at guard. The Wildcat have two great options for both guard spots and should be able to find the right guy for the right time. Mulroe, Grant, Bartels and Deiters are all good enough to start and each will see plenty of playing time.
Strength: Experience. Five starters are back and there's more than enough talent among the reserves to create some good battles for playing time. The talent is there to be far better.
Weakness: Production. This was a veteran group last year, too, and it meant jack squat. The pass protection was mediocre and the line was miserable for the ground game. It would be nice if there was a sure-thing anchor to work around, and Netter might end up being it.
Outlook: The program has done its homework and has beefed up the line to the point of being one of the team's strengths … maybe. The experience has to translate into production, and the hope has to be that the shining sophomores (Ward and Mulroe) turn into major-league players. If nothing else, the group has to find one thing it can do really well, but overall, this should be a solid front line.
Unit Rating: 7

- 2010 Northwestern Preview | 2010 Northwestern Offense
- 2010 Northwestern Defense | 2010 Northwestern Depth Chart
- Northwestern Previews  2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006