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    Spring Practice Gets Underway

    NUSPORTSDOTCOM Randy Walker and the Wildcats began their spring drills Tuesday afternoon.
    NUSPORTSDOTCOM
    Randy Walker and the Wildcats began their spring drills Tuesday afternoon.
    NUSPORTSDOTCOM

    March 28, 2006

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    EVANSTON, Ill. -- As Northwestern made a run at the Big Ten title last year, most outsiders failed to realize how youthful the 2005 Wildcats were. Veteran players Brett Basanez and Tim McGarigle -- two four-year veterans who rewrote the school and league's record books at their respective positions -- stole the headlines throughout the season.

    A closer look at the 2005 roster revealed just 12 seniors on the Wildcat roster. Northwestern played 11 true freshmen and a total of 24 freshmen (true and redshirt) overall. That was the third-highest total for freshmen playing in the nation.

    "With the amount of experience we have returning, there is a great deal of excitement for 2006," says eighth-year coach Randy Walker. "We had another great winter of work and I'm excited to see us improve and mesh during the spring. There is a lot of momentum in our program right now and we're anxious to get back to work."

    With the losses of last year's senior class, which was small in numbers but large in leadership and production, the Wildcats do have some pressing questions, none other than who will take the first snap at quarterback when Northwestern opens the 2006 season in Oxford, Ohio against Miami University. Second, how much improvement will the Wildcats' young defensive line make in the off-season.

    "Our question marks are obvious ones," says Walker. "We like our young quarterbacks and feel that each brings some special talents to the position. It will be a fun spring to see how they compete. They've worked hard to prepare themselves for the spring and summer and they've each been able to watch and learn from Brett, who was a terrific mentor for them.

    "Defensively, we know that our improvement starts up front. We've got a young, but very hard-working and dedicated group of players at defensive line. They know how important this off-season is for them. Our defense as a whole is eager to make some significant progress this year. They did make some progress last year and were one of the best turnover-forcing units in the country."

    Walker and his staff did make a couple position switches with a pair of players -- Gerard Hamlett and Eric Peterman.

    "I don't move guys to watch," says Walker. "I move them with the anticipation they're going to play. While they're playing and contributing on offense to some degree, I think there's a chance they can make an even bigger contribution on defense."

    With 18 returning starters (eight offense, nine defense, one special teams), there are a lot of reasons why the Wildcats have a chance to contend for the Big Ten title and earn their third bowl berth in four years.

    On Wednesday (March 29), NUsports.com will take a look at the Wildcats' offense.

    Practice Notes:
    • Several players will sit out most or all of the spring drills while rehabbing injuries: Matt Clark (ankle), Gerard Hamlett (toe), Chris Jeske (back), Ryan Keenan (mono), Austin Matthews (hip), Reggie McPherson (back), Alex Rucks (knee) and Eddie Simpson (abdominal strain). All eight players are expected to be ready for the 2006 preseason in August.
    • The first spring practice was held outdoors on Northwestern's FieldTurf practice field, located adjacent to NU's softball diamond. Weather conditions were cloudy, with light winds and temperatures in the low 40s.
    • The 'Cats worked out in jerseys and shorts on Tuesday. They will put on full pads for for the first time this spring on Saturday.