Football: Northwestern avoids the injury bug

Colin Becht

As Northwestern’s first team offense works through plays during practice, all the familiar names are there, from junior quarterback Dan Persa to junior left tackle Al Netter. Then the first team defense gets some reps, and again it’s the usual suspects, including senior linebacker Quentin Davie and junior cornerback Jordan Mabin.

Though this may be the norm, the lack of noteworthiness illustrates an incredible feat. The Wildcats essentially haven’t been bitten by the injury bug – at all.

Not a single player on the offensive first team has missed a start due to injury. Among defensive first teamers, only junior linebacker Bryce McNaul and sophomore safety Jared Carpenter have suffered injuries that have forced them to miss games, though both are now back on the field.

“It just comes out in the team chemistry,” junior running back Jacob Schmidt said. “If we’ve got some guys missing (in practice), it’s not going to help come gameday. So to have everybody out here working to get better for Saturday, it’s good.”

NU’s stroke of good luck should extend into this Saturday’s matchup with Michigan State. Junior defensive end Vince Browne, who missed much of the Cats’ 20-17 loss to Purdue due to a shoulder injury, has participated fully in practice this week. He said he would have been ready to play through the pain had the Cats played on Saturday.

“Luckily the bye week came at just the right time,” Browne said. “I don’t know what percentage it would have been, but I probably would have been able to go,” he said.

Browne agreed with Schmidt’s assessment that being able to work with the same players has helped the team learn each other’s tendencies.

“It builds a level of trust among players,” he said. “You know that this guy’s going to be there, and you’ve got to fit here. It creates a cohesive unit.”

However, coach Pat Fitzgerald said he believes NU has enough depth that should an injury occur, the Cats would respond well.

“We played more players now at this point in the year than we’ve ever played,” Fitzgerald said. “With as many guys as we’ve played, I think we’re in good position.”

Browne said he had definitely noticed the depth in experience among his defensive line group.

“In the d-line, there are at least two-deep at each position that can step on the field,” he said. “(Defensive line coach Marty Long) and myself and any of the guys would feel very confident with them playing.”

Schmidt said that because of the work backups get during the week, they are ready to go if called upon during the game.

“We’re prepared,” he said. “If someone goes down, that (backup) has got to be ready. He’s got to know what’s going on. And we rep in practice so that they will. We focus on film study and everything to be prepared for gameday, regardless if you’re the starter, the number two or the number three.”

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