"It's not your Dad's Northwestern, and that's what excites me."
- Northwestern Head Coach & White Sox Fan, Pat Fitzgerald
On a foggy Saturday morning in Evanston, IL the sun pushed through the clouds around the halfway point of a football practice, revealing a confident group with its eyes firmly set on a championship. It was black versus white, with only the Prince decked out in a full purple ensemble.
As I slept past my alarm Saturday morning like a lazy bum, I missed the first part of practice. By the time I finally arrived, one of the first plays I did see was a spectacular effort by the special teams unit: blocking a field goal try, picking up the loose ball and taking it all the way to the house.
I was surprised by how far the coaching staff went to create simulate game conditions. I was just expecting a bunch of players, some coaches and a few managers working together on a quiet practice field.
As is usual with me, my thoughts on reality and reality itself were one hundred an eighty degrees different. It turned out to be not a practice, but a scrimmage held at Dyche Stadium .. I mean, Ryan Field, and while it was not a packed house, there were a couple hundred people watching.
There were statboys , two cameramen high up videotaping the proceedings, and a a full squad of uniformed officials, and even that dude who stands on the sidelines with the changing down marker.
I found out later the practice's focus was on running the ball, which makes sense, as for a while I was wondering if Northwestern had switched from the spread to a full-on option offense.
Leading the way on the ground was not the former  Sporting News Freshman of the Year Tyrell Sutton, but junior backup quarterback Mike Kafka.
Kafka ran for 71 yards on ten carries, including some designed runs over ten yards. And do not think Mike was making these gains in touch football. The only player off limits Saturday was leader C.J. Bacher. Every time Mike was in there I could hear someone yell, (and not without satisfaction),
"QB IS LIVE ... QB IS LIVE"
Afterwards, Mike stoically commentated about his aliveness, "it was good, I asked for it and got what I wanted."
Several of the running backs were out with injuries, so another heavily used rusher was Kafka's backup Dan Persa.
The redshirt freshman, who was a two-time offensive practice player of the week in last year, had ten carries for twenty-six yards, pretty good for a QB ... but, wait, what position does he play?
Although he certainly saw some reps behind center, he also lined up as a wide receiver and running back, as well in a sort of white-chocolate version of Kordell Stewart's Slash  role as a Pittsburgh rookie.
Coach "Fitz" was asked a direct question about Persa's role, which, to his credit, he deftly shot down,
"I'm not gonna talk about any of those things ... just trying to get our best 11 on the field."
Indeed that's important for any championship team, consider how Bill Belichick has used WR Troy Brown as a corner and LB Mike Vrabel as a tight end on past Patriots Super Bowl teams.
Despite their success running, a QB's primary role, especially in a spread offense like NU's is to throw the ball. Kafka and Persa did alright, each completing 50% of their throws, but when the only player regal enough to play purple stepped behind center, he showed why he will likely be the best QB in the Big Ten next fall.
The only full drive I saw of Bacher's, he marched the team on a seventy yard scoring drive, picking apart the defense as he completed all four of his pass attempts. Even C.J. got in on the mutlti-talented act, handing off the ball and then going out for a pass on one of two trick plays in the drive. Dropping the ball was his only error of the series.
After practice, aside from revealing his loyalties when complimenting a reporter on his Sox jacket, adding "thank goodness," Coach Fitzgerald disclosed little else about himself or his team.
He refused to discuss either how Persa will be used or to name any starters, saying "I don't have to, and I won't." He did say he was "encouraged with where we're at," but added "we have a loooong way to go."
He also took a short trip down memory road, contextualizing the simulated game with his own playing days, as he commented on a few defenders getting beat,
"It's nice to get burned on Ryan Field in the spring, like I did as a young player so you can say been there, done that."
That way come fall, the secondary will not waste any time worrying about making mistakes in front of fans 'cause they already have and have gotten over it. Instead, they can focus their full attention on the task at hand, leading their team's inevitable march to the Big Ten crown.
For additional off-season NU Coverage, look to Lake The Posts