Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, August 17, 2015

The BTN bus just left Northwestern practice, and now it?s time to share some nuggets I gathered while I watched the Wildcats in action Monday morning.

[ MORE: 5 things Tom Dienhart learned | See our team's NU practice tweets ]

This was NU?s first practice of 2015 at Camp Kenosha at UW-Parkside, just a few miles from Lake Michigan. This is the team?s 20th season conducting some preseason drills in Wisconsin. There will be eight practices here.

When we attended Camp Kenosha last year, there were an alarming number of players out with injury. That wasn?t the case this year. Only a handful of players were out with injury. And no key ones missed with injury.

Northwestern has added former Wisconsin special teams coach Jeff Genyk as a quality control coach with offense and special teams. He can?t coach the players but can coach the coaches. He at one time was head coach at Eastern Michigan and has spent 12 years on the NU staff dating to Gary Barnett?s first season in Evanston in 1992.

A couple of true freshmen who have stood out: RB John Moten and CB Montre Hartage. Trent Goens, Joe Gaziano and Jordan Thompson have stood out on the d-line. WR Flynn Nagel also looks good. A lot of true freshmen could see action this fall.

Staff stability has been impressive under Pat Fitzgerald. In fact, no changes have been to the core staff the last five years.

This was the most spirited and hard-hitting practice I have seen so far. But Fitzgerald was not happy with the sluggish start, ripping into the team after practice.

Senior superback Dan Vitale told me a new wrinkle for the offense will be getting him and fellow superback Garrett Dickerson, a sophomore, on the field together. ?It will give us some good looks and matchups.?

Northwestern was a hot point nationally in 2014 with players voting to unionize. As practice ended, the NLRB released a statement shooting down NU?s union effort. ?We can now move forward,? Fitzgerald told me after practice.

The defensive tackle spot took a hit recently when Sean McEvilly had to quit football because of chronic foot issues. Seniors C.J. Robbins and Max Chapman will likely take his spot on the depth chart. The d-line should be good with senior Dean Lowry and senior Deonte Gibson on the ends.

The offense has gotten progressively worse the last three seasons. NU was 64th in the nation in 2012 (394.6 ypg); 73rd in 2013 (399.6 ypg); 104th last year (353.1 ypg). The rushing attack has really plummeted, too, from 19th (225.5 ypg) to 62nd (172.4 ypg) to 100th (136.6 ypg).

RB Justin Jackson emerged in 2014 and the sophomore is primed to be one of the top backs in the Big Ten this fall after debuting with 1,187 yards rushing last season. But there is depth behind Jackson in the form of junior Warren Long, redshirt freshman Auston Anderson and sophomore Solomon Vault, who was a wideout last year. Jackson isn?t physically imposing but shows great instincts and moves.


About Tom Dienhart senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

And if you want to leave a comment on this post, use the box below. All comments need to be approved by a moderator.