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August 15, 2009

Kafka looking sharp at practice

EVANSTON-Mike Kafka surveyed the field, looking for the open man during a red zone drill. He saw wide receiver Andrew Brewer, running a corner route, get a half-step on the safety, and he lofted a soft spiral that floated with precisely the right amount of touch and arc until it dropped right into Brewer's hands just as he was about to go out of bounds.

Brewer cradled it and put his foot down just inside the sideline. Touchdown.

The white-shirted offensive sideline erupted in cheers, while the defenders jogged back to the huddle and got tongue-lashings from both teammates and coaches.

That is precisely the type of play Northwestern fans are looking for from the passing game this fall. They know that if Kafka's throws can keep defenses honest this season, the Wildcat offense may be more than just the little brother to its much more ballyhooed defense.

On this Saturday, the Wildcats looked nothing like a team trying to replace a two and a-half year starter at quarterback (C.J. Bacher) -- which they are. They looked much more like a team under the calm, confident hand of a fifth-year senior QB who has a lot of experience under his belt -- which they also are.

Kafka looked poised and accurate throughout the 2-hour, 10-minute session, zipping the ball into tight spaces when he had to and connecting with Brewer -- on that picture-perfect corner route as well as on a long post pattern -- for touchdowns.

He looked, quite simply, like a guy in command of his offense.

"I feel confident," said Kafka, with sweat dripping off of his face after the Wildcats' first practice of the day. "The offensive line is blocking really well, guys are getting open and I'm throwing the ball pretty well."

His coach agreed with a voice not much above a whisper, the result of spending most of the morning barking out commands.

"He's throwing the ball well, and he's throwing the ball on time," said head coach Pat Fitzgerald. "You can tell he had a great summer."

Kakfa says he feel comfortable with a lot of his receivers -- veterans like Sidney Stewart, Lee Coleman and Zeke Markshausen to name three. They, as he put it, "have caught of lot of (my) throws" in practice over the last few years.

But Kafka clearly shares a special bond with Brewer. They are both fifth-year seniors who came to Northwestern as quarterbacks. They both started games -- and struggled -- at quarterback as redshirt freshmen in 2006, when Northwestern's offense couldn't find the end zone with a GPS system.

Kafka stayed at quarterback and bided his time as the backup to Bacher, while Brewer moved to wide receiver after that 2006 season and is looking to finally have the breakout season that many fans expect. Now, they are both leading an offense trying to replace a starting quarterback, a starting tailback (Tyrell Sutton) and its top three wide receivers.

"No doubt," said Kafka when asked if he has chemistry with Brewer. "We've been throwing together for three years now. We've been through a lot."



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