Fresh faces: Northwestern

As preseason camp rapidly approaches, it's time to begin the Fresh Faces series, which looks at three newcomers who could play major roles this season. These are true freshmen, redshirt freshmen, transfers or other players who likely will get their chance in the spotlight in 2010. I'll identify one player for each of the three categories.

We'll start things off with Northwestern.

OFFENSE: Patrick Ward, RT, So., 6-7, 285

Ward got his feet wet as a true freshman in 2009, appearing in 12 games at guard and tackle, but the prize of Northwestern's 2009 recruiting class steps into a major role this season. He's expected to start at right tackle and help Northwestern reignite its rushing attack. Ward is an extremely intelligent player with good physical gifts who could be Northwestern's top offensive lineman of the future.

DEFENSE: Tim Riley, LB, Fr., 6-3, 220

Linebacker is Northwestern's deepest position on defense, but Riley should see some action after generating some buzz with his performance this spring. Riley is head coach Pat Fitzgerald's type of player and will contribute both at an outside linebacker spot and on special teams. The redshirt freshman is already a member of the team's leadership council and should play an even bigger role in 2011.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Venric Mark, WR, Fr., 5-8, 170

Northwestern's return game has been average to below average for some time, and Mark has a chance to make a major impact right away. He made a name for himself in recruiting as a return specialist and should push Northwestern's returning players at both the punt return and kickoff return spots. Fitzgerald typically likes to redshirt his freshmen, but Mark and Northwestern's other wide receiver recruits (Rashad Lawrence, Tony Jones and Jimmy Hall) all have chances to contribute.