2014 Northwestern football preview: wide receivers, superbacks

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Daily file photo by Susan Du

Senior Kyle Prater could contribute to Northwestern's deep corps of wide receivers.

Bobby Pillote, Assistant Sports Editor

Projected depth chart:

Wide Receiver

1. #14 Christian Jones, Senior

2. #6 Tony Jones, Senior

3. #21 Kyle Prater, Senior

4. #19 Cameron Dickerson, Junior

5. #89 Miles Shuler, Junior

Superback

1. #40 Dan Vitale, Junior

Key losses

WR Rashad Lawrence (graduated, now with Washington Redskins)

The big three:

Northwestern’s receiving core figures to be a strength in 2014 with the return of top wideouts Tony Jones and Christian Jones, both back for their senior seasons.

The two Jones’ had nearly identical production last year, with Tony hauling in 55 receptions for 630 yards and four touchdowns and Christian snagging 54 balls for 668 yards and four scores. Their consistent presence on the outside — the pair played in every game — was crucial for an offense otherwise riddled with injuries. They’ll be important cogs as the team moves to using pass-first quarterback senior Trevor Siemian full-time.

Also returning is junior superback Dan Vitale, who finished last season with 34 catches for 382 yards and three touchdowns. Expect his production to increase in the absence of graduated fullback Mike Trumpy, who handled rushing, blocking and receiving duties out of the backfield. Vitale is a versatile weapon who is sure to line up all over the field over the course of the season.

Key contributors:

Joining that trio are wide receivers senior Kyle Prater and junior Cameron Dickerson. Prater was somewhat of an enigma last season. The Southern California transfer was allegedly healthy for the first time in his college career, and yet caught just nine passes for 59 yards. A gifted athlete with a 6-foot-5-inch frame, it’s hard not to imagine Prater catching some sideline bombs, deep crosses and end zone fades from the cannon-armed Siemian this year.

Dickerson gets bumped up the depth chart after the graduation of receiver Rashad Lawrence. A minor contributor with 11 receptions for 125 yards and a touchdown last season, expect Dickerson to see a big increase in production. His 6-foot-3-inch size enables him to line up on the outside, allowing the undersize Tony Jones to operate in the slot. Even as the fourth receiver, he’s sure to see plenty of action due to the Wildcats’ affinity for spreading the ball.

Junior transfer Miles Shuler could provide big plays from the slot. The speedster from Rutgers, who sat out last season per NCAA rules, is one of the Cats’ quickest weapons.

The future:

Beyond that group, all juniors or seniors, it is unclear who, if anyone, will emerge as a future threat. Sophomores Andrew Scanlan, Mike McHugh and Austin Carr will get opportunities in practice and in games, as will junior Pierre Youngblood-Ary.

Keep an eye on four-star recruit Solomon Vault, a running back with lethal speed and elusiveness in the open field. He has shown potential as a pass catcher, posting 22 catches for 308 yards his junior year of high school, and a crowded Cats backfield could see him moved to a different position.

This unit has ample talent and depth to carry Siemian to a 4,000 yard season and NU back to Big Ten relevance and a postseason appearance. If everyone stays healthy — and that’s always a big “if” — expect a cohesive air raid offense that doesn’t miss a beat in the absence of Kain Colter.

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Twitter: @BobbyPillote

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