When it comes to assessing the Northwestern Wildcats in 2011, one question matters more than the rest.
How is Dan Persa's health?
Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald has been asked about Persa countless times throughout the quarterback's lengthy rehabilitation from a ruptured Achilles' tendon and subsequent surgery. Arguably no Big Ten player mattered more to his team last season than Persa. Northwestern went 7-3 with him on the field and 0-3 after his injury Nov. 13.
Persa is participating in summer workouts with his teammates. He has been ahead of schedule throughout the rehab process.
Still, it might take some time before the coaches can fully gauge how the quarterback looks for the 2011 season.
"He's been progressing and some days are better than others," Fitzgerald told me last week. "I don't know if I'll have a direct answer on what percentage he is or where he's at until a week or two into camp."
Fitzgerald, who worked his way back from a knee injury as a player, said the challenge with any injury below the knee isn't necessarily the repaired joint, ligament, bone or tendon but reusing areas that went dormant after surgery.
"They are speed bumps in the road," he said. "The good news is it's not like [Persa] has to go run a 40-yard dash every play. He'll be pretty darn close to 100 percent, from the reports I've gotten back, sooner rather than later. But I'd hate to put a timetable on it."