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Pat Fitzgerald says wide receivers as good as he’s had at Northwestern

Updated: August 5, 2013 10:46PM

With stalwart runners such as quarterback Kain Colter and running back Venric Mark, Northwestern hasn’t tried to hide its preference for keeping the ball on the ground.

That was underscored last year when the Wildcats found themselves leading games nearly the entire season, negating the need for much of a passing game.

But that only means the Wildcats’ aerial attack was overshadowed, not that it doesn’t exist. Coach Pat Fitzgerald called his group of skill players as good as he’s had at Northwestern. That includes a wide receiver corps that returns three of the top four pass catchers from a season ago.

Add highly regarded junior Kyle Prater, who enters camp healthy and with a much better understanding of the offense after a year in the system, and it’s a group that might be as deep as any position on the team.

“Everybody knows that they’re gunning for a spot. Everybody wants to be that guy,” said junior Christian Jones, who led the team last season with 35 receptions for 412 yards.

“It’s definitely going to be really, really fluid. We’re going to be moving guys around more than anything right now, and that’s definitely going to affect how teams play us because we’re so interchangeable.”

Fitzgerald said moving players around helps him evaluate the most productive of the team’s numerous offensive packages. So early in camp, personnel groupings won’t mean much pertaining to who will start in the season opener Aug. 31 at Cal.

Jones also said moving players around creates more confusion for opposing defenses already dealing with Northwestern’s no-huddle ­offense. Jones said he could see time at any receiver position in camp, and it’s fair to speculate the same will go for every member of the group.

But as Jones and Co. jostle for starting roles, the receivers understand the best way to stay on the field is to prove themselves as blockers.

“Kain’s pretty hard to block for just because he’ll tuck it and run at any time,” receiver Tony Jones said. “Usually he’ll make you right, though.

“I don’t think it allows anyone to get too comfortable because you know the guy behind you is working his butt off to try to take your spot.”

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