Two quarterbacks, two styles: No problem for Northwestern

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Two quarterbacks, two styles: No problem for Northwestern

Compare the statistics between Northwestern quarterbacks Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian, and it's hard to tell who's the starter and who's the backup.

Both players played in all 12 games and have similar passing numbers. Colter was 92-of-134 for 796 yards, 8 TDs and 2 interceptions, an efficiency rating of 135.2 this season. Siemian's numbers read 116-of-197 (58.9 percent) for 1,192 yards, 6 TDs and 2 picks, good for an efficiency mark of 117.7.

While the numbers between the two are fairly even, the one lopsided category between the two is the number of quarterback starts. That's where Colter holds a 10-2 edge this season and that alone spells the biggest difference between the two.

Colter has 10 starts at quarterback and one as a wide receiver. Siemian wears the fireman's hat, coming in at times to revitalize a stagnant offense, including several rescues which helped secure a Northwestern win. When Siemian did get an opportunity to start a game, he made the most of it. He opened at quarterback against Indiana and proceeded to throw for a career-best 308 yards on 22-of-32 passing.

Ironically, Siemian's favorite receiver that day? Colter, who had nine receptions for 131 yards.

If you get the picture that Colter is versatile, you've nailed it. His rushing totals confirm that. He carried the ball 158 times, good for 820 yards and 12 scores with an average gain of 5.2 yards per carry. Starting tailback Venric Mark is the only Wildcat player with better numbers toting the ball as Mark averaged just over six yards a carry en route to a 1,300-yard season.

It's obvious either Colter or Siemian could be a full-time starter for most teams. Yet neither has a problem with his current role for the Wildcats. Colter says he doesn't think about the fact that sooner or later, Siemian will be coming into the game as his replacement.

"If you think about him coming in to replace you, you can't really focus on anything else," said Colter, a true junior who's played in all 25 NU games the past two seasons. "You push that to the back of your mind and focus on the plays and going out there and doing your best. If you're out there doing your best and you throw a pick or fumble, so be it. You don't think about that, you just try to do your best.

"If they need Trevor in the game and that gives us the best possibility to win, then they'll do that. Whenever we're out on the field, I want to see Trev do his best and he wants me to do my best. There's no conflict or anything between us. When we do run the two-quarterback system, it's to help the team win, that's why it works so well."

Even when he is replaced by Siemian, it doesn't necessarily mean that Colter is coming out of the game. In the two games that Siemian started - Indiana and Penn State - Colter saw plenty of action as a receiver and in backing up Siemian. He had a career best of nine receptions for 131 yards against the Hoosiers, and still found time to rush for 161 yards in 14 carries from the quarterback spot while scoring a school record-tying four rushing touchdowns.

"I don't mind going in at wide receiver," the Denver native said. "If I'm going to have a chance to play at the next level, it probably won't be at quarterback, so any chance I get to go out there and showcase my abilities, I'm going to take advantage of it.

"I love playing quarterback, I've been playing it my whole life, but wherever the team needs me I'm going to go out there and play."

Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald has instituted the two-look system at quarterback and it's worked out well for the Wildcats offense. NU averaged 397.8 yards per game and scored at better than a 30-point clip per outing.

"We believe we've got two young men that we can win with," the Wildcats coach said. "We watch a lot of NFL teams that don't have one. We're very fortunate to have two.

"Cain is a very dynamic athlete who does a lot of things very, very well. He's a terrific leader, has had a great, great season.

"We've put Trevor in some tough situations and he's handled them incredibly well this season. He's had a great finish for the year and has a really, really bright future. These are two guys who we feel strongly about, that we feel we can win with and do things at a very high level. That's why we're here. We've rode their coat-tails, and obviously they're going to need to play well against Mississippi State."

Siemian's only two starts this year showed that he is worthy of being a full-time starter. He was a combined 43-of-68 (63.3 percent), good for 443 yards with one touchdown and an interception in games against Indiana and Penn State. Six times this season he's had double-digit pass completions. Five times he's passed for over 115 yards.

Siemian is more the pro-style passer at 6-3, 210 pounds compared to Colter's 6-foot, 190-pound frame that enables him to escape danger much easier than Siemian. The latter makes it clear, he'd like to start. But he's a "team player", someone who's more concerned about helping the Wildcats gain a win than complaining about not starting.

"I'm just thankful for the opportunity to come in and move the offense when I get my chance," said Siemian, an Orlando native. "That's my job to be a leader on this team. I want to be the starter, but it doesn't matter what I think. I'm just a player, my job isn't to coach. I'm just glad to be here and contribute when I can to help us win.

"Kain and I have a good relationship. It's been good for both of us to get on the field. Obviously our styles are a little different, but we're both out there trying to help each other."

Two quarterbacks, two styles, two unselfish players. It's proven to be a winning combination for Northwestern this season and could be the factor that helps the Wildcats to their first bowl game win in 64 years.

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Bears DL Akiem Hicks making the most of a chance the Saints never gave him

Living well is indeed the best revenge, and sometimes nothing feels sweeter than proving doubters wrong. Akiem Hicks is savoring that exact feeling.

When the New Orleans Saints made Hicks their third-round pick in the 2013 draft, they typecast their big (6-5, 318 pounds) young defensive lineman as a one-trick pony.

“There were people in New Orleans that said, ‘You can’t rush the passer,’” Hicks recalled after the Bears’ win Sunday over the San Francisco 49ers. “They told me from my rookie year, ‘You’re going to be a run-stopper.’”

This despite Hicks collecting 6.5 sacks and 3 pass breakups as a senior at Regina in Canada. The Saints forced Hicks into the slot they’d decided he fit – nose tackle – then eventually grew disenchanted with him and traded him to New England last year – where he collect 3 sacks in spot duty.

Interestingly, Bears GM Ryan Pace was part of the Saints’ personnel operation. Whether Pace agreed with coaches’ handling of Hicks then isn’t known, but when Pace had the chance to bring Hicks to Chicago for a role different than the one the Saints forced Hicks into, Pace made it happen.

Pace likely saw those New England sacks as a foreshadowing or a sign that the New Orleans staff had miscast Hicks. The Bears defensive end now is under consideration for NFC defensive player of the week after his 10-tackle performance against San Francisco. Signing with the Bears last March 13 as a free agent was the career break Hicks has craved. For him it was a career lifeline.

“They have given me the ability to go rush the passer,” Hicks said. “So I love this organization – [GM] Ryan Pace, coach Fox, Vic [Fangio, defensive coordinator] – for just giving a guy the capability to put it out there and do what you feel like you can do.”

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Hicks has been showing what he can do, to quarterbacks. For him the best part of win over the 49ers was the two third-quarter sacks of 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Those sacks gave the massive lineman, who the Saints said couldn’t rush the passer, 6 sacks for the season – more than any member of the Saints defense this season. It has been a classic instance of putting a player in position to maximize his skills, not jam someone into a bad fit.

“Akiem has been in a couple of different types of packages before with New Orleans and New England,” said coach John Fox. The Patriots switched from a long-time 3-4 scheme to a 4-3 but “we’re more of a New England-type style. But we’re playing him more at end; he played mostly a nose tackle [in New Orleans]. He’s fit really well for us as far as his physical stature.

"But he does have pass rush ability. It shows a little about his athleticism. So he’s got a combination of both.”

That “combination” has been allowed to flourish at a new level, and the Bears’ plan for Hicks was the foundation of why he wanted to sign in Chicago as a free agent. The Bears do not play their defensive linemen in a clear one-gap, get-upfield-fast scheme tailored to speed players. Nor do they play a classic two-gap, linemen-control-blockers scheme typically built on three massive space-eaters on the defensive line.

They play what one player has called a “gap and a half” system, which requires being stout as well as nimble.

One Hicks rush on Kaepernick featured a deft spin move out of a block, not the norm for 336-pound linemen. He got one sack with a quick slide out of a double-team.

“I’m not freelancing,” Hicks said. “But I’m rushing ‘fast.’ There’s a portion of the defense where you have the [run] responsibility and don’t have the freedom or liberty [to rush]. It’s a great system for me and I love what they’ve let me do.”