Spring breakout player: Northwestern

With spring practice officially behind us, we're taking a look at each Big Ten team and identifying a player who announced himself as a potential key performer this fall.

These are guys who haven't played big roles yet but showed enough during the 15 spring practices -- not just some fluky, spring-game performance against backups -- to factor heavily into their team's plans.

The series turns to a team that generated more attention off the field than on it this spring, but still had some players make strides.

Spring breakout player: WR Miles Shuler

Shuler, who transferred to Northwestern from Rutgers last September, spent the 2013 season doing whatever was asked of him. Before Northwestern faced Ohio State, he played the role of Braxton Miller on the scout team. Before Northwestern faced Nebraska, he was Tommy Armstrong.

A quarterback in high school, Shuler helped his new team prepare for dual-threat signal- callers who brought the option threat throughout the fall.

Although he calls the experience "really, really fun" and "humbling," Shuler was glad to return to his primary position as a wide receiver and enter the two-deep this spring. His superb speed stood out on the practice field and allowed him to make several plays from the slot receiver role, which Northwestern features in its spread offense.

"He wants to play, he wants to be great," Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald told ESPN.com. "We had a great relationship with he and his family in high school. In recruiting, it's like everything when you finish second, you're like, 'Aw, man!' Now to see the success that he's having just in spring has been fun to watch.

"Hopefully, he can have an instant impact this fall."

Shuler had five receptions in two years at Rutgers but didn't appear to be a great fit for the Scarlet Knights' pro-style offense. He could thrive in Northwestern's system, which has featured small, fast slot receivers like Jeremy Ebert and Zeke Markshausen. The Wildcats use 6-foot-3 Christian Jones, their leading receiver, in the slot and have put tight end Dan Vitale there, too, but the 5-foot-10, 175-pound Shuler is much more of a prototype on the inside.

He provides a second speed threat at receiver alongside Tony Jones, who plays on the outside. Shuler, who says he's a bit faster than Jones, has studied Ebert, who had 137 receptions and 19 touchdowns in his final two seasons for the Wildcats.

"I watch Jeremy Ebert all the time," Shuler said. "I love what they did with him in the past, and I'm really excited to see what they'll bring for me this year. I don't know how they'll use me, but I expect it will be similar to how they used Jeremy."

If so, Northwestern's passing game, which struggled for much of 2013, will get a major jolt.