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Wildcats impress Pat Fitzgerald with focus after break  

Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald isn’t delusional. He knew that when his players went on spring break last week, they were going to take advantage of the time off. If that meant sleeping in or getting back to campus at the last minute, then so be it.

So Fitzgerald was pleased with what he saw Tuesday when the Wildcats held their second spring practice after a two-week break that included final exams. Fitzgerald saw a team that was more focused and committed than the rusty one that practiced Monday. Spring practice began March 7.

“I doubt any of them got up at 6 a.m. when they were on spring break. Some of them may have just been coming home,” Fitzgerald said. “That being said, we fully anticipated [Monday] being a little down, and most of them probably timed it to get back to Evanston after maybe 5 [p.m.] and somewhere before midnight on Sunday.”

The Wildcats started spring football about two weeks earlier than in years past to get a jump on problem areas and shore up a defense that gave up 163 points in the final three games last season.

It might seem too early to tell, but Fitzgerald believes the Wildcats are way ahead of where they were at the same time a year ago — rough Monday practice included.

“It was much better, and I thought the guys came out with a great attitude,” Fitzgerald said. “Getting back in full pads helps, too.”

The break also helped heal players such as Bryce McNaul, who had shoulder surgery in February. McNaul practiced in pads this week for the first time since the surgery.

Running back Mike Trumpy said his left wrist has healed after it broke Nov. 20 against Illinois at Wrigley Field. Trumpy said he still wears a protective cast.

“The cast broke [Tuesday],” Trumpy said. “My wrist is healed, but I am still getting treatment and it’s great to be back out here.”

Fitzgerald announced Jeravin Matthews has earned a starting cornerback job. Matthews came to Northwestern as a wide receiver, then was moved to running back.

Last season, Matthews saw time on special teams and at cornerback in 12 of 13 games. The 5-11, 175-pounder had 15 tackles.

“I wanted to find a home for him [since] I have four new front teeth because of him,” Fitzgerald said. “I was trying to teach him how to catch a ball, and I missed it and I got my teeth knocked out two years ago.”

All kidding aside, Fitzgerald believes Matthews earned his starting job because of his work last December during bowl practices and all the reps he has had this month.

“I’m very proud of him and of the way he has progressed,” said Fitzgerald, whose team will play its first scrimmage Saturday. “But I’m most proud of his attitude. It has never wavered.”

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