Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Wrist bands add new dimension to Wildcats’ potent offensive attack

New coordinator Mike Dunbar knew that Northwestern’s offense had gotten too predictable in 2001, so he had little choice but to expand it.

But more pages in the playbook caused another problem: How to incorporate it all into NU’s no-huddle, hurry-up attack?

With every play being signaled in from the sidelines, the added terminology meant an overload of hand-waving and arm-flapping.

“I call it a doctorate dissertation of signals,” Dunbar said.

So the Wildcats took added a new twist on an old plan: wristbands, for six players.

Since all the wide receivers, tight ends and running backs — not just the quarterback — must check with the sidelines for each play, each now sports a band scribbled with plays.

On Saturday, the Cats put about 35 plays on the band, every other line highlighted to make it easier to distinguish one play from the next.

Dunbar, formerly the head coach at Northern Iowa, said he’s used them for much of his coaching career. In the past, he’s put as many as 100 plays on the bands and just called in a number.

What once might have been a formation name followed by a long series of instructions can now be sent in with a simple “Wristband 18.”

“It’s just an easier, faster way,” said Dunbar, adding that they are permanent additions “to some degree.” Still, he isn’t sure the Cats will use the bands for every game in the fall. “We’ll use it as we need it.”

Dunbar, who will put different plays on the bands each week if necessary, still sent in a number of plays without using it on Saturday.

“It changes according to the game plan,” tight end Trai Essex said. “They may do it one play and not the next.”

There is risk involved. For example, a player could pick up the wrong number from the sidelines or read the wrong play on the wristband. Still, Dunbar said the bands are worth it.

“I’ve had every mistake imaginable with the wristband,” Dunbar said. “(But) we made the decision as a staff, ‘Heck let’s just give them to everybody.'”

LITTLE LIGHTNING: NU’s leading ballcarrier on Saturday is listed at 5-10, 185 pounds. Don’t believe it.

Jeff Backes, a redshirt freshman who isn’t yet two years removed from being named Mr. Ohio — the state’s greatest high-school honor on the gridiron — scampered for 64 yards on nine carries. But he didn’t do so by overpowering too many tacklers. Instead, he outran and outmaneuvered most of his opponents.

Backes said he’s added five-to-eight pounds since last season, but sheepishly admitted that the coaches set weight gain as an important goal for him. Another 10 pounds before the fall would be ideal, he said.

The tailback’s primary asset is his ability to put on the burners — something that could make him a valuable player even without the bulk.

“He plays fast. He has some things you don’t coach and that’s quickness and speed,” head coach Randy Walker said. “And instinct — he has that sense of where to take the football.”

Backes, who switched jerseys to No. 28 in part to pay homage to NFL little man Warrick Dunn, ran a 4.37 40-yard dash this off-season. So long as he is one of the smallest guys on the field, he knows that he’ll have to earn every break he gets.

“Sometimes it’s good to have something to prove to yourself and to everybody else,” he said. “You kind of use that as motivation. Sometimes people aren’t the prototypical size, but a lot of people have overcome that.”

TIGHT END TROUPE: NU will be marching more big men onto the field than usual.

Instead of the four-wideout sets that have been a hallmark of the Cats’ offense, tight ends will become a bigger part of the system, sometimes in a two-tight end set.

This spring, Eric Worley, the team’s top tight end remaining from last year’s roster, has been out with injury. Sophomore Trai Essex and redshirt freshman Joe Wohlscheid since have stepped in, and the pair might force Dunbar to give them more playing time.

Already, tight ends have given the team more options.

“We got a lot more single-tights — a lot more than we had last year,” Essex said. “We had one or two last year, and we have like four or five this year.”

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881
Wrist bands add new dimension to Wildcats’ potent offensive attack