Given Bryce McNaul's injury history, Northwestern might feel a bit leery about relying too heavily on the linebacker this season. The senior has missed portions of the past three seasons with various ailments.
Then again, the Wildcats have no choice. After losing two starting linebackers (Nate Williams and Quentin Davie) who combined for 167 tackles, Northwestern needs big things from McNaul at an otherwise shaky position.
The team got some good news Monday when it resumed practice following spring break and McNaul was on the field, fully cleared for participation. McNaul had shoulder surgery Feb. 16 -- he had his AC joint removed -- and was supposed to be limited this spring. But he made a rapid recovery.
"It's kind of funny because the last shoulder surgery I had was around the same time after the Alamo Bowl back in '09," McNaul said. "That was an eight-month recovery and it was kind of all doom-and-gloom. So when they told me shoulder surgery, and especially when they said we're taking your AC joint out, I'm like, 'Oh, great. Here we go again.' But I came out of surgery and I kind of had a smile on my face because I felt great. It was a 45-minute operation and, like I said, they just cleaned it up. They didn't have to reconstruct or re-patch the whole thing. So it's all good. I just have a few more holes in the shoulder."
Although McNaul had been on schedule to return this fall either way, his participation in spring ball can only help the Wildcats linebacking corps. He started nine games last fall and will provide leadership for a group that needs some unproven players to emerge.