Football Notebook: Thomas takes advantage of opportunity, but remains understated


Daily file photo by Sophie Mann

Northwestern’s offensive line prepares for a snap in last year’s game against Iowa. Jared Thomas has helped stabilize what Pat Fitzgerald has called a “fluid” unit.

Cole Paxton, Web Editor


KENOSHA, Wis. — A week ago, near the outset of fall camp, coach Pat Fitzgerald said Jared Thomas was given an opportunity. Thomas, it seems, has made good use of that opportunity.

The sophomore offensive lineman continued to run exclusively with the first team at left tackle here on Wednesday, an eye-catching display of stability on a line that has seen a plethora of players rotate through positions.

Asked last Wednesday about Thomas running with the starters, Fitzgerald said only that the line was “fluid.” The 6-foot-4, 285-pound Thomas, however, has taken the overwhelming majority of snaps at left tackle in three camp practices attended by The Daily.

Still, Thomas said he was taking nothing for granted.

“It’s one day at a time. Being at tackle, it’s really just what the team needs,” he said. “If you’re in a position you haven’t been in in the past, you put those personal needs or wants aside, and you do it for the team.”

Thomas’ insertion into the rotation as a starting tackle was a surprise. Though Fitzgerald shared his frustration with the play of his tackles last year at Big Ten Media Days, Thomas was not thought to be among the contenders to compete against junior tackle Blake Hance, who started all 13 games last year.

Thomas worked his way onto the depth chart last year as a backup interior lineman, starting one game at center. He does not have game experience at tackle.

“He’s learning the position. He’s competing,” Fitzgerald said late last week, expanding more on Thomas than previously. “He’s working his butt off. From that standpoint, I’m really proud of where he’s at right now.”

Thomas made himself known during a running drill late in Wednesday’s practice, barking out specifics to offensive and defensive linemen as to how they should complete the drill.

Like he did about his play, however, the understated Thomas demurred about his leadership role.

“I wouldn’t say I’m there yet,” Thomas said. “In the o-line room, it’s not (as if) we look to one guy to be the vocal leader for the whole group. It comes from everybody.”

Defensive tackle Saunders out for the season

Redshirt freshman defensive tackle Jake Saunders suffered a season-ending injury in practice in the last several days, an athletic department spokesman and Fitzgerald confirmed.

Saunders was not likely to be a major factor this season, but was expected to compete for a reserve role on an interior defensive line led by senior Tyler Lancaster and junior Jordan Thompson.

“Just disappointed for him,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s just a process for the rehab. I know he’ll work through it.”

A three-star recruit from Ohio, Saunders earned a defensive practice player of the week award in his redshirt season. His size — 6-foot-2, 295 pounds — may be among his best assets.

“He’ll be back, and he’ll be back with a vengeance,” Fitzgerald said.

Saunders joins wide receiver Solomon Vault as the only NU players certain to miss the entire season, though cornerback Trae Williams is expected to miss several games, at minimum, and defensive end Xavier Washington remains suspended following a drug-related arrest in the spring.

Several take advantage of “Veterans Day”

A number of Cats stalwarts did not participate in Wednesday’s practice, instead taking part in side conditioning drills with players returning from injuries.

Fitzgerald later explained that many players, including Lancaster and senior safety Godwin Igwebuike, were using a “Veterans Day,” a day off from practice a player earns for accruing 12 career starts.

Those who did partake in full practice faced a challenging, fast-paced day complete with a heavy dose of scrimmage situations.

“You look at the map of camp, today would’ve been a really good day to take a day off,” Fitzgerald said. “That was probably why you saw a lot of guys over there.”

Though some players sat out, others have returned to being full participants. Chief among them are wide receivers Flynn Nagel, who sat out most of the first week of camp (though not for injury reasons, the spokesman said), and Macan Wilson.

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