By David Sterrett
The Daily Northwestern
Northwestern coach Randy Walker said at his Monday press conference that with receiver Mark Philmore expected to be sidelined four to six weeks with a left knee injury, running back Noah Herron will play more at the slot receiver position.
Walker also said running back Jason Wright, who suffered an ankle injury on Saturday, will be held out of Tuesday and Wednesday practice.
“That’s not unusual for a running back,” Walker said. “There’s a good chance he will be back (by Saturday).”
Philmore hurt his medial collateral ligament in Saturday’s 16-7 win over Wisconsin, and Walker said the team will know more about its severity later in the week when they take an MRI.
Walker said the medical staff didn’t think surgery was necessary, but Philmore is “definitely” out this week.
“Mark was really starting to make strides, and that’s what makes the injury so unfortunate,” Walker said. “You could see he was getting it and learning to play at the Division I and Big Ten level.”
Athletic trainers helped Philmore off the field Saturday after a play in which the sophomore caught a 4-yard pass on NU’s final drive of the first half. Philmore later came out on crutches to watch the remainder of the game.
Philmore, a native of Reynoldsburg, Ohio, started his second straight game at wide receiver after junior Ashton Aikens suffered a season ending anterior cruciate ligament injury against Minnesota on Oct. 4.
In eight games, Philmore was the Cats’ third-leading receiver with 20 catches for 185 yards.
Despite the injuries to Philmore and Aikens, Walker said he didn’t plan on using any of the talented freshman receivers the Cats are redshirting this year. This list of redshirted receivers includes Sam Cheatham, Tonjua Jones, Reggie McPherson and Kim Thompson.
“I don’t think its fair to only play them the last four games,” Walker said. “There’s a couple of guys I know who are capable of contributing, but it wouldn’t be fair to them.”
Walker said receivers Brandon Horn, Shaun Herbert and Eric Batis will see more playing time.
Horn has four catches, including a 77-yard touchdown, but neither Herbert nor Batis has caught a pass this season.
“Some guys need to step up,” Walker said. “We will adapt and find a way to make it work.”
To fill the void left by injuries to Aikens and Philmore, Walker said Herron will move from the backfield to the slot wide receiver position.
Herron lined up at receiver numerous times against Wisconsin and finished the game with three catches for 35 yards.
Herron, a junior from Mattawan, Mich., had his best career rushing game on Saturday with 104 yards on 11 carries. But Walker said he was more impressed with Herron’s play at receiver.
“He didn’t grade as high at tailback as he did playing on the perimeter,” Walker. “He’s accustomed to playing receiver and he will stay out there.”
Walker said Herron will spend more time practicing with the receivers this week, and sophomore running back Terrell Jordan will serve as Wright’s backup.
Walker said having running backs flanked out at wide receiver creates matchup problems for defenses, and Herron doesn’t seem too concerned about the position change.
“It’s really not that hard,” Herron said. “Our offense is based on concepts and not really memorization. So if you understand the concepts that each position is pretty much intertwined with the others, if you know one you pretty much know them all.”
“It’s a lot more on my plate, but you know I’m always hungry.”