Opening spring ball: Northwestern

The Northwestern Wildcats hit the practice field today for the first of 15 spring practices.

Here's a quick snapshot of what to expect in Evanston:

The big story: Repairing the defense. Northwestern's defense fell apart in the final three games of last season, surrendering 48, 70 and 45 points, respectively, in losses to Illinois, Wisconsin, and Texas Tech in the Dallas Football Classic. Injuries certainly played a role, but the defense seemed to lose its edge after starting quarterback Dan Persa suffered a season-ending Achilles' injury. Coach Pat Fitzgerald has talked about restoring an attitude, and as a result, he's opening competition for most starting jobs this spring. It'll be interesting to see how the defense looks after spring ball.

Position in the spotlight: Running back. Mike Trumpy and Adonis Smith showed flashes of promise in 2010, and there's hope that Northwestern's long-suffering rushing attack could be on the rise. Trumpy, who missed the final two games with a broken wrist, could miss the first few days of spring ball, but it's important for he and Smith to continue making strides. Northwestern can't be so reliant on Persa to do it all in 2011.

Coaching changes: Receivers coach Dennis Springer is the only new assistant on Fitzgerald's staff, as he replaces Kevin Johns. Springer inherits arguably the deepest position group on the squad, and his experience with special teams could help Northwestern in the kicking game. Although the Wildcats must identify a new kicker this spring, they're fine at punter and could be very good on returns with Venric Mark.

Keep an eye on: Outside linebacker Roderick Goodlow. He missed all of last season following knee surgery, but should be in the mix for one of several starting linebacker spots this spring. One of three true freshmen to see the field in 2009, Goodlow could be a breakout player if he stays healthy.

Spring game: April 16