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    2014 Spring Practices Underway in Evanston

    Pat Fitzgerald was back on the field with his 2014 Wildcats Wednesday morning.

    Pat Fitzgerald was back on the field with his 2014 Wildcats Wednesday morning.

    Feb. 26, 2014

    Fifteen times between now and the middle of April, head coach Pat Fitzgerald and his 'Cats will be afforded the opportunity to hit the practice turf and lay the foundation for the 2014 season. Today (Wednesday) was the first of those 15 days together, and special contributor Skip Myslenski was on hand to talk to one of the Wildcats leaders this spring, QB Trevor Siemian.

    SCENE SETTING: It was all so different 12 months ago when the 'Cats kicked off spring practice. They were coming off a 10-win season and their first bowl victory since 1949, were infused with a swashbuckling swagger and the promise of greater things soon to come. Here was Pat Fitzgerald declaiming, "There's an expectation level now not to just win football games, but to compete and win championships. We've got the bowl championship. Now the next step is to put the big trophy in the case."



    That expectation, to be clear, has not changed. They still aim to compete for the Big Ten title. But when the 'Cats kicked off this spring's practice Wednesday, they were coming off a five-win season, a season that included just one conference victory, a season that was not punctuated by a bowl appearance for the first time since 2007. Their mood, then, was different. Now, said quarterback Trevor Siemian, "I think we've got a chip on our shoulder.

    "Northwestern, we've always been a team that's kind of up-and-coming. We had a chance to go to the Gator Bowl and we beat a pretty good Mississippi State team. There's a different expectation after that and certainly going 5-7 isn't meeting that expectation. So guys came back with a chip on their shoulder knowing the expectation now is going to the Rose Bowl and a Big Ten championship. Anytime you fall short, and fall that far short, you've got a bad taste in your mouth...

    "Winter workouts, we didn't have to be reminded too often of what our record was last year or how poorly we did. Like I said, the expectation is to win a Big Ten championship and go to the Rose Bowl. And when you go 5-7 and win one Big Ten game, you're not even close. So guys should have a chip on their shoulder and they do. We have a different attitude about us this spring."

    REPLAY: The lack of a bowl game made this a longer offseason for Siemian, but he spent it much as he had those that preceded it. He spent it watching every snap from last fall at least once, looking always for ways he could improve. "The throws I missed. The throws I made. The throws I could have made," he explained. "It was definitely a time to reflect and work on things to get better. But I was really anxious to get back with the guys. It was the first time that we hadn't made a bowl game, that I hadn't made a bowl game, since I'd been here. So just really anxious to get back."

    ONE LAST LOOK BACK: To be sure, Siemian turned in some worthy numbers last season. He ended it 178-of-298 (59.7 percent) for 2,149 yards and 11 touchdowns. But he also threw nine interceptions, was sacked 19 times and was inconsistent through its second half. That last problem can partially be ascribed to an injury he suffered in the Wisconsin game, where he incurred a bone bruise on his heel that made it difficult for him to plant when throwing. "It was," he would admit, "a little bit of a distraction that I didn't handle maybe as well as I would have liked to."

    QUICKLY NOTED: When it's effective, the 'Cat offense operates with the consistency of a metronome built around quick strikes. "We're a rhythm offense, so those high-percentage throws, we've got to complete them," explained Siemian. "Obviously in the games we didn't do so well, we struggled with those rhythm throws and getting in rhythm in general as an offense. The games that we did well, there was a little bit of a different feel to them, we had a little more tempo. That's the direction we've got to go in, and we're going to focus on that this spring." ... Eleven 'Cats are being held out of spring practice as they continue off-season rehab. Among the notables are running backs Venric Mark and Stephen Buckley, offensive lineman Ian Park, cornerback Daniel Jones, and defensive linemen Max Chapman, Deonte Gibson, Sean McEvilly and Ifeadi Odenigbo ... The first portion of the `Cats spring practice schedule runs until Saturday March 15. It then shuts down for two weeks, picks up again on April 1 and finally closes with a public session on April 12 at Ryan Field.

    AND FINALLY, SIEMIAN, on his leadership responsibilities: "As the quarterback, you're the guy. That's directly on your shoulders. So I'm trying to be the best leader that I can (be) for this offense. Not that I didn't last year. But this year it's even more of an emphasis being the older guy in the group."


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