Purple Mafia: Nick Medline from the NU frontlines

Venric Mark ISO in rain at MN

For those of you just getting back from vacation, where have you been? For the regulars, apologies on the LTP NU CFB Kickoff Party daily drum banging.The event, held at the beautiful Howells & Hood (435 N. Michigan Ave) costs just $25 and will feature former QBs Dan Persa, Zak Kustok and Steve Schnur as well as an open bar, some eats and some top shelf networking with fellow Wildcat fans. For all of you procastinators out there, I’m going to charge you $35 the night of the event, should any tickets be left. It’s open to any NU fan 21-and-older. CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE YOUR TICKETS. ONLY 30 LEFT!!

We’re on to day three of Camp Kenosha for the ‘Cats, who are full on in to the grind part of the schedule.  Yesterday, the BTN crew was at UW-Parkside to tape their Northwestern edition of the 12-team preview slate. Note to Kain Colter…don’t even think about hawking that bus on E-bay, we’ve got proof! Kidding, obviously:

The ‘Cats BTN fall camp show will air next Tuesday night on BTN. I’ve got a good feeling that Revver, Gerry and Howard are going to be pretty high on NU this season. Here is another Instagram shot courtesy of @NU_Sports:

 

Today, though, we focus on another Fox-owned property – Scout.com and the Wildcat site, PurpleWildcats.com. One of the more positive and relentless coverage guys of Wildcat football is Nick Medline. Nick has been the head man for NU coverage on the Scout site since Chris Emma departed for Purdue and this is his first full season at the helm. Nick could very well be lucking out like I did when, as my first job, I had the pleasure of being a producer on the Gary Barnett show – in 1995.

Let’s catch-up with Nick, who has been tracking every step of practice and is one of a handful of folks who is there nearly every day for every practice.

LTP: Nick, welcome to LTP.

NM: First of all, I’m honored to be interview by LTP. Love what you guys do here, and hopefully the on-field product will match our joint excitement.

LTP: Nonsense on the “honored” stuff, but we’re psyched to have you here. We’re equally psyched about what could be in front of us this season.

By now, most NU fans really know the areas of concern and have the key position battles in the forefront of their minds. Before we go there, I’m always interested in knowing how you can tell an NU player excelling versus another player underperforming. It’s like a good spring game play. Does a great run bode well for the offense, or poorly for the D-line? Help me out with making judgments relative in the bigger picture from how you cover the ‘Cats in practice.

NM:  It’s kind of a ridiculous answer, but the best I can come up with: How do the coaches react? Fitz, McCall and Randy Bates are especially good indicators, but everyone works.

If Deonte Gibson makes one quick move to reach the quarterback–and he does that with success–then that sort of thing can happen. The O-line moves on and corrects the error while Marty Long smiles. Unless the coaches witness some sort of schematic breakdown or lazy effort, they’re not out there to trash players.

But say Mike Trumpy gets swallowed up at the line of scrimmage because the O-line botched assignments. McCall, like any good coordinator, will yell to correct the problem. That’s underperforming. The examples go on, but in close calls, the reaction dictates how I view the play.

Overall, the team is mentally focused. In so many of these position battles, you see two guys playing especially well, and not one stumbling into the starter’s role. I didn’t see one individual getting chewed out for sloppy play. It’s unnecessary here.

LTP: It sounds like Fitz is exuding a quiet confidence this year. He’s so comfortable with the media and genuinely seems like the places where media are concentrating – notably the offensive line – are areas that he feels really good about.  Is the competitive “depth” in the program finally here? How different does the talent level look/feel from a year ago at this time?

NM:  Though I feel like a veteran, this is my first offseason covering Northwestern football. My debut (save from average recruiting stories so former PurpleWildcats.com publisher Chris Emma could figure out whether I sucked) took place at Syracuse. And nothing really beat that. I had about a dozen near heart attacks, and the Syracuse press conference “room” had a leaky ceiling. It was a nice welcome, yes, but I missed this process.

Fall camp is fairly indicative of how this season might go. Last year, everyone praised Venric Mark and Nick VanHoose throughout training camp. Look how that turned out. I will say this: Where are the question marks now? Last year, those came at running back and corner, and both were answered. Maybe I’m questioning the defensive tackle spot, but that’s really all.

They recruit well. They fill needs. The redshirt freshman class always seems ready to contribute after years taken for development. They can focus on being good everywhere, and not just salvaging the season despite weak points. It’s exciting to watch, honestly.

LTP: You’ve been very high on Daniel Jones. Do you see him as our every down CB?

NM: Yes. I’d make the argument that secondary play is the most important part of fall camp. Corners and safeties need to develop rapport, and most importantly, confidence. Jones and Nick VanHoose could be an above-average tandem, and they really need two guys capable of playing every down.

Braxton Miller, Taylor Martinez and Devin Gardner are on this year’s schedule. No one needs to be flawless. They just need to survive and rely on some contributions from Dwight White and C.J. Bryant. (I’m not sure that any true freshman defensive backs are ready to play.)

Jones is the best option and spoke to me about his excellent offseason. Aside from that one disaster play in Ann Arbor, I thought Jones did an admirable job in the starter’s role. I try to avoid mentioning the Jerry Brown “loyalty” system, but here we are. I am high on Daniel Jones, yes. Two legit (and healthy) starting corners and we can start talking title aspirations.

LTP: Godwin Igwebuike. It seems like his athleticism might force Fitz to at least consider burning the redshirt to build some depth at the safety slot. How do you see this playing out?

NM: I’d burn it. He’s a capable backup at safety and will likely earn the 150 to 200 practice reps that Fitzgerald uses as the baseline to determine readiness. I’ll shamelessly say that I think Godwin will be a star for Northwestern and an All-Big Ten candidate one day. He’s a step ahead of every other freshman, a freak athlete and special teams ace.

Fitz reportedly told (BTN’s) Tom Dienhart that Godwin is the defensive freshman “best equipped to play.” That looks true from my vantage point. In a season where I anticipate two or maybe three true frosh to play, Godwin’s the easy pick.

LTP: Give us your sense of the D-line and how it is coming together as a unit

NM: Well, they’re loaded at defensive end. It could be the team’s best position. Tyler Scott is an All Big-Ten player. Dean Lowry, Ifeadi Odenigbo and Deonte Gibson are in an intense three-man competition opposite him. All four should see considerable action and strike fear in opposing quarterbacks.

Defensive tackle brings the question mark. They have to replace Brian Arnfelt–now an excellent professional prospect–by wearing in one fairly inexperienced starter. Sean McEvilly needs to be the man, with Will Hampton my other predicted starter. Is that worrisome? Yes, but Fitz could probably convince me otherwise in the span of 20 seconds. Some tackles should come along, and the Wildcats could desperately use that.

LTP: Teddy Greenstein recently wrote a neat feature about Jay Hooten and the strength and performance program and how dramatically different the current team looks than just a few years ago. Can you speak to the speed and strength of this team across the board?

NM: Look at the true freshmen. They come to Northwestern after starring in high school, and without knowing a single thing about this football team, you could guess the freshmen one-by-one. Hint: they’re smaller than the other guys. I joked last week that Tommy Fuessel has my body type, which means that he will automatically redshirt. In two years, though, they’ll be jacked and physically ready for college football.

I liked Teddy’s point about the lack of injuries speaking to strong preparation from Hooten and others. When I was a little kid/NFL fan in the early 00s (ed note: ugh…I feel old), it seemed like every Tennessee Titans player would go down with some debilitating injury. I would yell: “Fire the training staff!” But this team is solid. Yes, I understand the concept of randomness, but what Teddy said holds true.

When Teddy asked Hooten who the strongest pound-for-pound players were, he mentioned Brandon Vitabile and Venric Mark. One is 6-3, 300 and the other is an undersized running back. Strength and size are two different things, and there’s no doubt the “emphasis on training” can be seen all across the field.

LTP: On paper, we’re still relatively loaded at WR, yet you’ve written that only Christian Jones has separated himself from the pack. What’s holding this unit back?

NM: Are they loaded? I’m not sure. They have good pieces and an exciting four-man starting core. Last season, no one was wowed by the passing game—with most attributing this to the run-heavy attack.

Christian Jones can be the deep threat. I’d argue in leaning on one dominant receiver rather than this soft distribution of short passes we saw last season.

Everyone has his role. Tony Jones is the quick and flexible guy with some big-play capability. Rashad Lawrence serves as the possession receiver. Cameron Dickerson is the savvy, rising perimeter guy. Do I think Kyle Prater will play? No. I’m convinced that Mike Jensen is the fifth-best option, and even that will help in rare situations.

I have to write this how I see it. In the first week of camp, they dropped passes at alarming rates and ran only “okay” routes. They might completely prove me wrong. I just sometimes wish that they’d move Kain Colter out wide permanently (or something like that) but that’s another story. The receivers should be fine, but I’m not sold on them being loaded until something on the field truly backs it up.

LTP: What three things that you’ve seen have given you a glimpse that this is going to be THAT special season?

NM: The O-line. Love it. Ian Park and Geoff Mogus will be fine starting as redshirt freshmen. The unit showed stunning chemistry in early workouts, and I’m one of those guys who thinks–for better or for worse–that Brandon Vitabile can never do anything wrong.

Early mental challenge. I’m a huge fan of the Cal game because it forces the team to be ready for anything. Four cupcakes would freak me out leading into the Ohio State showdown. The Sonny Dykes Air Raid will test Jones, VanHoose and some of their backups.

Defensive star power. We’re not even talking about Ibraheim Campbell lately. Campbell, Scott and Damien Proby are elite talents with some unknown quantities looking to step up. I’m excited to see what Hankwitz gets out of this talent.

LTP: Final question. Most likely true freshmen to play in 2013?

NM:

Could play

Godwin Igwebuike— Because he’s pretty great, and you can tell.

Eric Joraskie– I think we see the college-ready Joraskie if the defensive tackles struggle. This is need-based.

Jayme Taylor— Only because I think he’s capable of being the second-stringer behind Dan Vitale. You never know when the team will need reinforcements.

Not ruled out

Defensive backs— Matt Harris is my deep-sleeper pick. He’s one of my favorite freshmen to watch so far, but even he’ll likely need a year to develop.

Hunter Niswander— Will he take kickoff duties? Perhaps, though that role could easily go to Budzien.

Very likely to redshirt
Matt Alviti
Tyler Lancaster
Running backs
Wide receivers
Offensive linemen
Linebackers
Thanks for having me, LTP.

LTP: No, thank you Nick! Keep up the great coverage.

Hoops Hoopla

There was quite a stir yesterday based on WildcatReport.com’s news of highly sought after 2014 point guard, Bryant McIntosh, who rated his weekend visit to Evanston a perfect “10″.  Louie Vaccher reported that Chris Collins pulled out all the stops including a visit with former Duke standout Jon Scheyer, a childhood admiree of McIntosh’s. Vaccher noted NU is looking at him as a “lead guard” – not a point guard and not quite a shooting guard – more like, you guessed it, Jon Scheyer. Essentially it’s a point guard who after bringing the ball up the court and gives it up, transforms in to a scoring option as opposed to the offensive conductor that say, Sobo or Juice have been.  It appears that NU is in the lead for McIntosh, who will return for an official visit in mid-October. The ‘Cats have the full court press on Bryant and it seems to be working for the Indiana native.

Some moving pics to give you a sense of what the hype is all about:

Parrker Westphal & 2015 Football Recruiting Momentum

Thanks to reader Omar_Little from yesterday’s comments section in this post, I was alerted to the 24/7 recruiting site and the apparent significant mojo we have towards landing blue-chip, 4-star DB, Parrker Westphal.  The “experts” unanimously had him going to Michigan in earlier predictions, but that has flipped unanimously towards NU’s favor now that apparently Fitz has personally taken on the recruiting of the Bolingbrook High School phenom. Additionally, the same post points out that NU hosted three of the “state’s top 2015s last week” with RB Leonard Ross, OL Trevor Ruhland and CB Antonio Shenault all paying a visit to Evanston.

  • GoU_NU

    Great, great stuff LTP and Nick. I really like getting a no-frills look at what’s going on right now. Kind of an interesting wake up call to hear about the receivers, what with the dropping of passes and poor running of routes. I’d like to hear Nick argue more about moving Colter out wide, especially regarding how that would change the whole read/option and dual-threat aspect of our QB position that worked so well last year. Follow-up article?

    Great, great stuff.

    • gocatsgo2003

      Let’s be honest for a second… how in the world do we know if Nick could EVER tell the difference between a well-run and poorly-run route?

      • GoU_NU

        Why don’t you send him an email and ask for his dissertation on the topic of wide receiver route running?

        He’s a published journalist who writes about football, presumably for some kind of living. Give a little trust, good lord… You can also deduce from the way he writes about the game that him actually SEEING live practices and having the ability to perform comparisons between players is much better than ours from behind our keyboards.

        • gocatsgo2003

          Yeah… because writing about something on the Internet automatically makes one an expert on the subject (and, yes, I wrote that fully aware of the fact that is dripping with irony).
          Do we know whether he has ever even run a route or coached route running himself? Doesn’t seem like too high of a bar to set in analyzing the route running of B1G/BCS wideouts.

          • GoU_NU

            He said the WRs dropped passes and ran “okay” routes. I presume that means they generated little to no separation from the DBs on a regular basis, and in general didn’t give any of the QBs an easy target. That was my interpretation.

            And I can’t set the bar any higher, because I haven’t heard anything as detailed from anyone else.

          • fullfathomfive675

            This argument — if you’ve never done it you don’t know it — is pretty weak, though the jockocracy loves it. I’m a sports journalist who has covered football for 27 years, high school, college and pro — and I know what a good route looks like. I never played receiver either. I don’t know everything about football, but I know a lot about it. It is possible to know sports very well and never played them.

          • Chasmo

            I couldn’t agree more. The x’s and o’s and proper techniques of football are simple to master if one wants to devote the time needed to learn about them in depth. Having played the game in college or even high school is not required. NU LB coach Randy Bates, for example, did not play college football. The list of college and pro coaches who never played college football is not as short as you might imagine. In addition, many coaches played for bad Division III programs which are just slightly better than the high school teams for which a lot of us once played.
            My favorite example of how playing experienced is not requited is former NBA head coach Lawrence Frank, who didn’t even play high school basketball. Do you really think he wouldn’t know a good pick and roll defense if he saw one?
            Football coaches and players often are not highly intelligent people. If you take all the time it takes to learn the game, you can know just as much about its technical aspects as any former player or coach.
            The only thing a player knows that a fan can never learn is how much is hurts to play football.

          • gocatsgo2003

            And, without experience playing the game, the coaches who have risen to elite levels are almost inherently “grinders” who were around the game for a LOONNNGGGG time in a variety of roles to pick up on its intricacies and nuances.
            To use your examples, Randy Bates coached at hotspots such as Muskingum College and St. Joseph’s College early in his career in order to learn the game. Lawrence Frank was a student-manager at Indiana all four years of his undergraduate education and then spent three years at Marquette as an unpaid (I assume) “staff assistant” for three years before getting a break at Tennessee. That’s SEVEN YEARS without receiving a paycheck just to learn the game and advance his career.
            Another example is Mike Leach, who toiled away for Cal Poly, the College of the Desert, a team in freaking Finland, and Iowa Wesleyan before getting a break as coordinator under Hal Mumme at Valdosta State.
            In sum, you’re absolutely correct in that coaches and fans without extensive experience playing the game can achieve a certain level of expertise… but it takes a whole lot more than one season closely covering the sport to reach that level of familiarity/knowlege.

          • Chasmo

            Randy Bates’ route to a job at a major conference program and Lawrence Frank’s route to an NBA head coaching position were no longer than many coaches who played college sports. It is the nature of the business and it’s why most people would rather do something else than be start out as an assistant coach at Emporia State or some such outpost. Frank’s route to the top was much faster than a lot of coaches who did play college basketball.
            To think mastering the knowledge necessary to play or coach football or basketball is difficult is giving too much credit to the people who can recognize out a cover-two defense.
            Anyone can acquire the knowledge necessary to know the technical aspects of these games. All it takes is the desire to learn. Most people don’t want to spend most of their time learning the nuances of the games but if you do, the subject easily mastered.

            This is not to say that coaching — which requires the ability to teach, motivate, and inspire — is easy. But the material is taught to many people of below average intelligence. It ain’t rocket science.

          • Gladeskat

            I’d trust your 27 years of journalistic experience over someone with one year of experience. However, I cringe when someone writes: 1) Joraskie may play DT as a true frosh at 260 lbs, and 2) our DBs will be tested by Cal when in reality the DL play will be just as important, if not more so, in determining whether we can contain a good passing game. Nick is way out ahead in providing lots of reading material, though, which gives readers something to chew on and interpret any way they want.

          • http://www.LakeThePosts.com/ LTP

            Thanks for weighing in. I’m in full agreement with fullfathomfive675 on this one. I played competitive basketball at the high school and collegiate level, yet I get called out for my lack of hoops knowledge (which candidly is better than my football knowledge, x and o’s-wise). Playing is not a prerequisite for being good as a journalist. Similarly, playing doesn’t automatically qualify you as a good analyst. Cuts both ways.

        • Gladeskat

          Nick demonstrated last year as a “published journalist who writes about football” that his understanding of the game is shaky. His judgment on route-running, hmmm, I don’t know. I do trust him on detecting dropped balls, though.

  • Pittsburgh Wildcat

    Had been wondering about Prater because that’s a name I haven’t read in pretty much any story about preseason camp thus far. Seems like he’s not done anything to warrant moving up on the depth chart, which is too bad given what appears to be some great, natural athletic ability. But good for the other WRs who obviously have done what they need to do to get on the field.

    • gocatsgo2003

      His size/length doesn’t much matter if he can’t create any separation from DBs and is injured too often to instill confidence from the coaching staff.

      • Richard

        Throw him jump balls, then.

        • gocatsgo2003

          Which is where the whole “is injured too often” part comes in.
          And a WR still has to be able to create SOME separation from the DBs in a jump ball situation or the odds of converting just aren’t high enough to call the play.

  • Sasser

    We’ve got Paul’s countdown going to two-a-days, it seems. Michigan State is #27, while Northwestern didn’t come up in the “next up” clue for #26. Where in the Top 25 shall we see our Wildcats show up on the Countdown?

    • http://www.LakeThePosts.com/ LTP

      I’ve got us at #18. Tell me another program in America that finishes the season ranked #16 in the final polls, returns nearly ALL of its starters on both sides of the ball and goes down in rankings? Brand perception lag still in effect.

  • Estif

    Terrific interview, thanks guys! So stoked for Aug 31!

  • gocatsgo2003

    Joraskie has been practicing at DE and is a lot leaner than I would have thought based on recruiting tape — he is in no way, shape, or form big enough for consistent reps at DT right now.

  • http://www.LakeThePosts.com/ LTP

    Future post alert. If NU wins 9 or 10 games, we’ll get dinged in preseason rankings next year, despite back to back top 25 rankings AND more importantly, losing, by my count 4-5 total starters. However, the name appeal of losing Kain Colter, Venric Mark and #2 RB Mike Trumpy will have “national” experts citing rebuild. I think we’ll be better in ’14 than ’13 based on developing young talent that is getting rave reviews.

West Division

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East Division

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