Football: Position unit grades from Northwestern’s spring game

Colin Becht

Northwestern concluded its spring practices with a scrimmage between the offense and defense on Saturday. In a game of runs, the defense prevailed in NU’s specially created scoring system, 47-43. Here’s how each position group performed.

Quarterbacks: B-

Sophomore Trevor Siemian certainly had the best game of NU’s quarterbacks, completing 8-of-14 passes for 119 yards. He also led two scoring drives with touchdown passes to wide receivers Demetrius Fields and Cameron Dickerson. Siemian spread the ball among the Wildcats’ receivers and delivered his passes with sharp accuracy. Redshirt freshman Zach Oliver illustrated his potential with some crisp passes – he completed 6 of his 8 pass attempts for 63 yards – but also demonstrated the maturity he needs to gain, tossing an interception to sophomore defensive tackle Chance Carter for a defensive touchdown. Junior Kain Colter had a disappointing spring game as he missed several open receivers with overthrown balls. Colter shook off his rough performance as just an off-day and said ultimately this spring game is just another practice, so he’s not too worried.

Running Backs: C-

Don’t read too much into this as junior Mike Trumpy still isn’t practicing after tearing his ACL last season. Still the rest of the running game didn’t manage to get much going on Saturday, averaging 2.35 yards per carry. The Cats had little room to work with on the ground, which led to a lot of rushes up the middle for minimal gains. However, junior Venric Mark and sophomore Treyvon Green contributed in the passing game, catching 2 balls each.

Receivers: A-

This unit is certainly talented and deep. Dickerson made the play of the game when he leapt high above redshirt freshman cornerback Nick VanHoose to pull in a deep ball, then broke a tackle while losing his shoe for a 40-yard touchdown reception. Redshirt freshman Pierre Youngblood-Ary also showed some potential, hauling in 3 passes for 51 yards including a tough catch along the sideline for an 18-yard gain. NU emphasized spreading the ball around, so the presumed starters didn’t stand out particularly. What did stand out was the depth as nine different players caught passes.

Offensive Line: D

The offensive line looked lost without stalwarts Al Netter and Ben Burkett. The Cats surrendered 6 sacks, and while one of those was the result of Oliver holding on to the ball for too long, the bulk of the blame falls on poor blocking. None of the quarterbacks ever looked comfortable in the pocket and were consistently hurried. It’s lucky for NU’s future that Colter is agile.

Defensive Line: A

It’s hard to say how much was to due to good pass rushing and how much was due to bad blocking, but NU’s defensive line dominated Saturday’s scrimmage. Redshirt freshman defensive end Deonte Gibson continued his strong spring by recording 2 sacks and 2.5 tackles for loss. On the opposite side of the line, junior defensive end Tyler Scott added 1.5 sacks of his own. Carter recorded the lone takeaway of the game, returning his interception 19 yards for a touchdown.

Linebackers: B

With the defensive line swallowing up quarterbacks and running backs at the line, the linebackers weren’t asked of much, but produced when called upon. Sophomore linebacker Collin Ellis paired with Scott to sack Colter, and redshirt freshman linebacker Drew Smith led all players with 4.5 tackles. The most important thing for this linebacking group was that it didn’t miss many tackles, a major flaw for NU last season.

Secondary: D+

It was rough game for NU’s most closely watched position group. Looking to make a statement to help earn their starting jobs, VanHoose and sophomore cornerback Daniel Jones both suffered lapses in coverage. Senior wide receiver Demetrius Fields was left wide open in the middle of the field on his touchdown reception, and poor tackling on Dickerson’s catch allowed him to reach the end zone. The Cats’ secondary has a lot of work ahead of it between now and September to keep NU from losing shootouts.

Special Teams: B-

Special teams was limited to just field goals and extra points due to the special rules of the scrimmage. Junior kicker Jeff Budzien hit a 20-yard field goal and made his only extra point attempt. Senior kicker Steve Flaherty made his extra point attempt but missed on a 38-yard field goal try. Redshirt freshman kicker Arthur Omilian made both of his extra points.

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Twitter: @colinbecht