2012 Northwestern Preview – Defense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Northwestern Wildcat Defense
Preview 2012 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: A massive disappointment last season considering all the starters that returned and with so much hope, the defense was miserable at getting into the backfield and everything else suffered. The secondary struggled and the linebackers weren't able to make enough big plays against the run. It's not exactly a rebuilding process as it is a revamping one. The call has gone out to be far more aggressive, and now the athletes are in place in the front four to be more disruptive. The linebacking corps can move, and the secondary has several excellent athletes. However, this is a young, YOUNG defense that might have to go through a year of taking lumps with the payoff to come in 2013.
Star of the defense: Sophomore S Ibraheim Campbell
Tackles: Ibraheim Campbell, 100
Sacks: Quentin Williams, 3
Interceptions: Ibraheim Campbell, 3
Player who has to step up and be a star: Sophomore LB Collin Ellis
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DT Chance Carter
Best pro prospect: Campbell
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Campbell, 2) LB David Nwabuisi, 3) DE Deonte Gibson
Strength of the defense: Youth, Athleticism
Weakness of the defense: Proven Pass Rushers, Experience
Northwestern really, really needs a pass rush and it has to come from Quentin Williams on one side. The 6-4, 260-pound veteran started the last seven games of the season finishing with 29 tackles with three sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss. Extremely quick off the ball, the former linebacker knows how to work his way into the backfield, and now he's going to be the No. 1 pass rusher – at least that's the hope. Meanwhile, 6-3, 240-pound redshirt freshman Deonte Gibson was one of the team's most disruptive forces this offseason and looks like a future star. He'll put up big numbers before his career is up.
Back on the other side is 6-4, 265-pound sophomore Tyler Scott, who was just growing into a player before suffering a shoulder injury and not doing much as a pass rusher over the second half of the season. He finished with 31 tackles with a sack, a pick and three tackles for loss, and he always seemed to be around the ball with three recovered fumbles. A great athlete who got bigger and stronger, he was a top outside linebacker prospect who beefed up and now looks ready to be shine if he can stay healthy.
6-3, 270-pound sophomore Chance Carter is a great-looking tackle with terrific quickness and interior pass rushing ability. The Evanston native only made two tackles in a reserve role, but he dominated this offseason and appears ready to grow into the star of the interior. He might not be a huge anchor, but he can move.
6-5, 300-pound senior Brian Arnfelt started in the bowl game against Texas A&M and will get work in the rotation with Carter and could see a little fight his way in a starting role. A smart, tough end who works on the inside, he made seven tackle with a quarterback hurry after coming back from a foot injury. Extremely smart, even by Northwestern standards, he knows what he's doing in the interior. If he doesn't end up starting it'll likely be 6-3, 285-pound junior Will Hampton who holds down the job after making 15 tackles in the rotation. While he didn't do much to get into the backfield, he's extremely quick and is strong enough to hold up against the run.
Watch Out For … Carter. The Wildcats had a couple of rocks on the inside in Jack DiNardo and Niko Mafuli, but Carter should be an upgrade. While he's not a space-eater like those two were, he should be more productive.
Strength: Pass rushing potential. Either the O line was awful this spring, the D line was better, or a little bit of both. Scott, Gibson, Williams and Carter will be asked to attack, attack, attack. They should be able to shake things up because last year there wasn't any …
Weakness: Pass rushing production. The Wildcats came up with just 17 sacks on the year and never seemed to be able to breathe on quarterbacks in key situations.
Outlook: The line has to be far, far better. The pass rush hasn't been there over the last few seasons, but that's about to change as the call has gone out from the coaching staff to be far stronger and far more aggressive. It's a young, promising line that should be fine with a little bit of time. It can't be worse than last year's line when it comes to getting into the backfield.
Unit Rating: 6.5
The linebacking corps has a nice combination of decent veterans and great-looking young prospects. The anchor will be senior David Nwabuisi, a 6-1, 240-pound middle linebacker who started the first six games before moving to the outside finishing third on the team with 84 tackles with a sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss. Built for the inside, he's strong, thick and has great range and quickness. While he could work on the outside, he's much better in the middle
6-0, 235-pound junior Damien Proby needs to find a spot somewhere after starting the final seven games in the middle making 60 tackles with a sack and three tackles for loss. A pure tackler with speed, he can play inside or out.
6-2, 220-pound sophomore Collin Ellis was supposed to be the starter from Day One, but he suffered a hand injury and missed the first three games. He still finished with 28 tackles with a sack and two tackles for loss, and now that he bulked up a bit and isn't a safety playing linebacker, he should be able to do more on one side, while 6-3, 220-pound sophomore Chi Chi Ariguzo will be a key all-around playmaker on the other side. Like Ellis, Ariguzo hit the weights and filled out a bit, but he can still move. He made 32 tackles with 1.5 sacks getting spot-starting time and being used as an athletic backup.
Sooner than later there will be a spot for true freshman Ifeadi Odenigbo, a four-star recruit and one of the best defensive prospects to sign on in the Pat Fitzgerald era. While he needs time in the weight room, the 6-3, 217-pound guided missile has track star speed and a burst off the ball. An outside defender, he'll be used as a pass rusher as well as a dangerous all-around playmaker. The sky is the limit.
Watch Out For … redshirt freshman Drew Smith. It's a bit of a crowded linebacking corps, but the 6-1, 205-pounder has a great burst and the ability to shine as a specialist on the outside. He'll get his chances.
Strength: Young talent. Nwabuisi is a senior, but all the top prospects are underclassmen with the addition of Odenigbo cranking things up a few notches. The future is bright with Fitzgerald building up the speed and athleticism.
Weakness: The run defense. There wasn't any pass rush, but that was a far bigger problem for the line. The linebacking corps needs to be more hard-nosed and tougher against the power running teams. You can't play linebacker for Fitzgerald if you don't hit.
Outlook: The linebackers weren't the problem on the inconsistent defense, but they should be a plus with a little more time. It's going to take a little while to find the right starting threesome to work around, but there are plenty of options and enough good pieces to play around with to hope for a good step forward. The corps will be phenomenal in 2013.
Unit Rating: 6.5
The secondary was full of experience last year but the pass rush was so poor there wasn't much the corners could do to hold up. This year the hope is for 6-0, 185-pound redshirt freshman Nick VanHoose to be the star he appears ready to become after a great offseason. The former high school running back has speed and big hitting ability, and now he appears ready to lock down one side of the field for the next four years.
5-11, 170-pound sophomore Daniel Jones started in the bowl game and spent the season as a key backup making 12 tackles. He didn't do anything when the ball was in the air, but he's extremely strong with tremendous speed and athleticism. 5-11, 175-pound senior Demetrius Dugar is one of the team's best athletes and has done just enough as a special teamer and spot starter at corner to potentially take over one of the jobs full-time. He got the call against Iowa and Penn State in the middle of the season finishing with 11 tackles with a pick.
Looking to build off his huge first season is sophomore Ibraheim Campbell, the team's leading tackler making 100 stops with two picks and four broken up passes with 3.5 tackles for loss. With decent size at 5-11 and 205 pounds he packs a good wallop and has the instincts and speed to get all over the field. His two interceptions came against Michigan and he made double-digit tackles in four games with 11 against Texas A&M and 13 against Army. Working behind him will be 5-10, 180-pound senior Hunter Bates, who returned from a broken leg to be a backup in the mix making ten tackles. Fast, he made 45 tackles in 2010 and worked as a punt returner.
A replacement needs to be found for second-leading tackler Brian Peters with 5-10, 200-pound junior Davion Fleming getting a shot after making two tackles as a backup and special teamer. A terrific athlete, he has the speed to be all over the field, while 6-2, 205-pound sophomore Jimmy Hall will be in the equation after making three stops as a special teamer. The firmer wide receiver can move.
Watch Out For … VanHoose. The Wildcats desperately need a playmaker at corner and VanHoose appeared to be one this offseason.
Strength: Young talent. NU has a slew of young prospects like VanHoose, Jones and Hall who have great athleticism and can all move. There might be some turnover, but there's hope for the near future. However, it might take awhile because of the lack of …
Weakness: Experience. Brian Peters was terrific finishing with five picks, while Jordan Mabin and Jereavin Matthews were solid corners. Unless the pass rush is night and day better, it could be rocky for a little bit before all the young players start to shine.
Outlook: The secondary got lit up for yet another year allowing 230 yards per game, but it only gave up 16 touchdowns. With a renewed purpose on the defensive front that's looking to make things happen behind the line, the defensive backs should get a little bit of a break. There won't be miracles, but the pieces are there to set a good foundation.
Unit Rating: 6.5
The kicking game wasn't too bad with junior Jeff Budzien taking over and hitting 6-of-10 chances. Three of his missed were from beyond 40 yards and he didn't miss from under 45 yards after the third game of the season. He doesn't have a cannon, but he nailed a 47-yarder against Iowa.
The punting has to be far better after finishing 90th in the nation averaging just 35.1 yards per boot. Junior Brandon Williams averaged 40.8 yards per kick, but his big problem was keeping it in play putting just 14 inside the 20 with nine touchbacks.
Junior receiver/running back Venric Mark is one of the nation's best all-around returners averaging 15.9 yards per punt return and 22.9 yards per kickoff return. He didn't take any the distance, but he's a weapon who'll need to be kicked away from.
Watch Out For … more from Budzein. He missed a 26-yarder against Army, but that was it for the mistakes. He should nail everything from 40 yards and in and he'll come up with at least one game-winner.
Strength: Mark. He came up with a nice 2010 averaging 12.9 yards per punt return and then last year was fantastic helping Northwestern finish second in the nation in punt returns. He's a field-position changer.
Weakness: Punting. The punt coverage team was awful allowing 11.4 yards per try with a touchdown, but the problem is that Williams didn't blast away enough and he didn't put enough inside the 20.
Outlook: Mark is an elite difference-maker and should be among the nation's top returners. The kickers are experienced and should be better, while the kickoff coverage team should be fine. Overall this should be a strength as the year goes on.
Unit Rating: 7
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