Walker’s starting lineup on hold

Amalie Benjamin

While the Purple-White game – Northwestern’s spring intrasquad football contest – clearly doesn’t affect the standings, it might help determine the status of some players for the fall.

Unlike past years, no member of the team has a starting position locked up. Last season quarterback Zak Kustok and running back Damien Anderson were untouchable at their positions, and NU had so many linebackers that Napoleon Harris, a first-round choice in the National Football League draft Saturday, was forced to move to defensive end.

But not this year. With the graduation of their quarterback, tailback, three of four linebackers and most of their offensive line, the Wildcats will be rife with inexperience – and players trying to steal a starting slot.

Even Pat Durr, NU’s lone returning starter at linebacker, isn’t sure he’ll be taking the field for the first down of the 2002 season.

“No one has a spot right now,” Durr said. “They post a depth chart everyday. You’re under a microscope. The film pretty much exposes everything, so if you mess up, you’re coming out.”

But Saturday’s 1 p.m. game at Ryan Field probably won’t set anything in stone. Positions will still be up for grabs until the Cats’ season opener at Air Force on Aug. 31.

In fact, the spring game will be more akin to a scrimmage than a game, NU head coach Randy Walker said.

“We’ve been kind of fluctuating all spring,” Walker said. “It’s still very fluid, to be honest. There’s nothing definitive. In some cases it’s day-to- day, today you’re one, tomorrow you’re two, but we’re just trying to get the right mix and the right fit of guys.”

The spring game is traditionally played with the first-team offense and second-team defense pitted against the second-team offense and first-team defense. In last year’s spring game, Walker altered the format, having the first stringers face the second stringers, which led to a 30-0 victory for the starters.

On offense, Walker said that former wide receiver Jason Wright and freshman Jeff Backes have been standouts at the running back position in the spring.

And on the other side of the ball, the defense, led by Durr, has something to prove.

“The defense needs to show that we can hang with the big boys and dominate out there,” Durr said.

That’s just the sentiment that Walker expects from his players – both in Saturday’s game and in the regular season.

“John Wooden said it best: ‘The greatest motivating tool a coach has is the bench,'” Walker said. “I think everybody wants to go out there and play. If you don’t, I don’t know why you’re here. Hopefully we’ll just see where guys stack up. But we have a lot of football ahead of us before we get to Aug. 31.”