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Football: Carr, Walker, Igwebuike eye NFL future; Jackson says he’s staying

by Bobby Pillote 0 Comments
Football: Carr, Walker, Igwebuike eye NFL future; Jackson says he’s staying
(Colin Boyle/Daily Senior Staffer)

With a bowl victory in hand, some Northwestern players are looking into the next step of their football careers.

Senior receiver Austin Carr finished his year with a program single season record 1247 yards receiving and will begin his preparation for the pros right away, he said. Carr has already accepted an invitation to the East-West Shrine Game, a postseason showcase to be played Jan. 21.

“The NFL has always been a dream of mine,” Carr said. “Hopefully I’m going to be drafted, God willing.”

Juniors Godwin Igwebuike and Anthony Walker have a year of college eligibility remaining and face the decision of whether to leave school early. Each will receive feedback about their pro prospects from the NFL draft advisory board, according to a report by the Chicago Tribune, though neither has made a final decision.

“I’m still thinking it over,” Walker said. “It’s not going to be a decision that’s made today or tomorrow, so I’m going to take some time, sit down and get all the information that I need.”

Despite an excellent season of his own, junior running back Justin Jackson denied rumors he would be leaving school early, saying he intends to finish his degree. Jackson has never redshirted and has been at NU for just three years; Igwebuike and Walker each redshirted their first season and have been at NU four years.

The deadline to declare for the 2017 NFL draft is Jan. 16.

Miles Shuler signs contract with Carolina Panthers

Another Wildcat has found an NFL home.

Wide receiver Miles Shuler signed a contract with the Carolina Panthers after participating in the team’s rookie minicamp on a tryout basis, the team announced today.

In Northwestern’s anemic passing offense last season, Shuler caught just 13 passes for 132 yards, but the Panthers saw something they liked in the tryout and inked him to a deal. His potential as a returner likely helped him — as the team’s primary punt returner last year, Shuler averaged 10 yards per return on 11 returns.

Shuler is one of four Cats who are currently on NFL rosters for next season, joining Green Bay draftee Dean Lowry, Tampa Bay draft pick Dan Vitale, and Lions undrafted free agent Deonte Gibson. Safety Traveon Henry signed with the Buccaneers as a free agent as well, but was reportedly cut recently.

Dan Vitale’s new role with Buccaneers evokes throwback term

Dan Vitale’s new role with Buccaneers evokes throwback term
(Daily file photo by Jacob Swan)

When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected Dan Vitale in April’s NFL Draft, it guaranteed a shot at a professional career for the former Northwestern superback. But his role as a professional was still very much in the air. Vitale was best known for his pass-catching work throughout his career and was the Wildcats’ leading receiver last season, but he spent the pre-draft process highlighting his willingness to block out of the backfield as a fullback.

With a player so versatile, it’s impossible to know how the Buccaneers will use Vitale until the pads are on. But an article on the Buccaneers’ team website gave some insight into the possibilities, including dropping a term that will make fans of retro football proud.

You won’t hear the word “wingback” on many NFL broadcasts these days. Those familiar with football history are most likely to use it in order to evoke memories of players like Johnny Rodgers, the Heisman Trophy winner at Nebraska in 1972.

Though the term wingback originated out of arcane offensive formations like the single-wing, today it is used to describe a hybrid role like the one Vitale is projected to play for the Buccaneers.

The story goes on to explain that the modern “wingback” role will involve much greater responsibilities in the passing game than it would have back in the day, and Vitale is currently listed as a tight end on the Buccaneers roster. After serving as the archetype of one unique position at NU, it would only be fitting for Vitale to bring back another one in the pros.

Analyzing the NFL homes of Northwestern’s latest draft picks and signees

Analyzing the NFL homes of Northwestern’s latest draft picks and signees
(Daily file photo by Nathan Richards)

Defensive end Dean Lowry and superback Dan Vitale on Saturday became the latest Northwestern football players to be drafted, and joining them in the pro ranks as undrafted free agents are defensive end Deonte Gibson and safety Traveon Henry.

With the dust settled on the NFL’s rookie class, we can take a closer look at which Wildcats have a chance to be contributing performers for their new teams.

Lowry, selected in the fourth round by the Green Bay Packers, seems to have landed in an ideal situation. The Packers are a stable organization, and as a fourth round pick Lowry is very likely to make the cut for the 53-man roster. Green Bay also only has two true defensive ends currently on the team, meaning Lowry should have an early chance at cracking the defensive line rotation and seeing some playing time outside of special teams.

Vitale, drafted in the sixth round by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, is much more likely to make an impact on special teams than he is on the offensive side of the ball. The Buccaneers list him at fullback, and being able to play special teams is a big part of the job description for the few fullbacks left in the NFL. Special teams play was also a big part of Vitale’s pitch to teams during the pre-draft process. If he does see the field on offense, it will most likely be whenever Tampa Bay decides it needs an extra blocker out of the backfield.

Gibson and Henry have much more tenuous futures in the NFL as undrafted free agents, as making the 53-man cut is far from guaranteed.

The Detroit Lions, who signed Gibson, drafted two other defensive linemen this year and currently list another 11 on their roster. It simply isn’t likely there will be a spot left for Gibson come the end of August. The same goes for Henry, who will have to climb past four safeties and eight cornerbacks on the Buccaneers’ roster.

It’s possible, but Gibson and Henry will each need a very impressive training camp — along the willingness to play special teams — in order to stick around.

Traveon Henry signed by Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Safety Traveon Henry has signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as an undrafted free agent.

Henry played 12 games at safety his senior year, totaling 74 tackles and two interceptions. He joins former teammate fullback Dan Vitale, who was drafted by Tampa Bay in the sixth round.

Dan Vitale drafted by Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Dan Vitale drafted by Tampa Bay Buccaneers
(Daily file photo by Luke Vogelzang)

Superback Dan Vitale was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with the 22nd pick in the 6th round (197th overall) of the NFL Draft on Saturday. He is the second Wildcat to be drafted, after Dean Lowry was taken by the Green Bay Packers near the end of the 4th round.

Vitale led Northwestern in all receiving categories during his senior campaign, hauling in 33 catches for 355 yards and 4 touchdowns. Over his Wildcat career, the Wheaton, Illinois native totaled 135 catches for 1,427 yards, and his 11 career receiving touchdowns are tied for tenth-most in program history. Additionally, Vitale picked up second-team All-Big Ten honors in 2015.

The Buccaneers had shown interest in Vitale leading up to the draft, hosting him for a private workout earlier this month. He also visited privately with the New England Patriots.

As the superback position does not exist in the NFL the Buccaneers drafted Vitale as a fullback, but he could also find snaps at tight end. He joins a Tampa Bay squad that finished 6-10 and in last place in the NFC South last season.

Dean Lowry drafted by the Green Bay Packers

Dean Lowry drafted by the Green Bay Packers
(Daily file photo by Nathan Richards)

Northwestern defensive end Dean Lowry was drafted by the Green Bay Packers in the 4th round of the NFL Draft on Saturday. The Packers selected him at 137th overall.

At 6-foot-6 and 296 pounds, Lowry appeared in all 13 games during his senior campaign in 2015, registering 31 solo tackles and 3 sacks. He also set a career-high with 13.5 tackles for loss last season and earned second-team All-Big Ten honors.

At the NFL scouting combine, Lowry impressed with 30 bench press reps of 225 pounds, fifth-most for all defensive lineman and a 4.81 second 40-yard dash.

Lowry joins a Green Bay squad that lost in the NFC Divisional Round to the Arizona Cardinals. He will sit behind defensive ends Letroy Guion and Datone Jones on the depth chart.

Morning Roundup: April 27, 2016

by Max Schuman 0 Comments
Morning Roundup: April 27, 2016
(Daily file photo by Zack Laurence)

It’s been an quite the year for Joey Calistri. The men’s soccer star finished his career as a Wildcat in the fall as the second-leading scorer in school history, then signed a homegrown contract with the Chicago Fire of MLS, beginning his professional career. In the first installment of our Curtain Call series, taking one final look at Northwestern’s senior stars like Calistri, Ben Pope profiles a player making the leap and trying to find his way at the next level.

In other news…

  • The NFL Draft takes place in Chicago beginning this Thursday, and several Cats seem poised to hear their names called. Bobby Pillote and Max Schuman convened a roundtable to preview the weekend’s events.
  • Marty Johnson checks in with the softball team as they prepare for the home stretch of the season, beginning with today’s game against Loyola University Chicago.
  • The Big Ten announced its golf honors yesterday, with NU’s women’s golf sweeping individual awards and men’s golfer Dylan Wu being recognized as well.
  • Max Schuman took a look at the Cats’ chances of sending a runner to the outdoor track NCAA Regionals this season, and didn’t like what he saw.

And a look at Wednesday’s back page:

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