2013 Northwestern Preview – Defense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - Northwestern Wildcat Defense
Preview 2013 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: After a stunningly disappointing 2011, the defense came up with a whopper of a 2012 with the youth rising up right away to create more of a pass rush and be far more disruptive. This is still a young defense, but now it's experienced led by a terrific group of linebackers. Damien Proby and Chi Chi Ariguzo will once again best statistical stars behind a decent line that can get into the backfield on a regular basis. Tyler Scott is one of the Big Ten's best pass rushers, and he'll get help with athletes up front at the other three spots. Corner Nick VanHoose and safety Ibraheim Campbell are two of the league's top defensive backs, and once the cracks are filled in around them, the secondary should be a strength.
Star of the defense: Senior LB Damien Proby
Tackles: Damien Proby, 112
Sacks: Tyler Scott, 9
Interceptions: Nick VanHoose, 3
Player who has to step up and be a star: Senior DT Will Hampton
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DE Dean Lowry
Best pro prospect: Junior S Ibraheim Campbell
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Proby, 2) DE Tyler Scott, 3) Campbell
Strength of the defense: Linebacker, Run Defense
Weakness of the defense: Pass Defense, Tackle Size
The run defense was terrific and the pass rush solid, and it has back a terror in junior Tyler Scott, one of the biggest surprises of the Big Ten season cranking out nine sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss with 42 stops. The 6-4, 265-pound speed rusher came back from a shoulder injury that bothered him in 2011 and dominated games at times with two sacks against Minnesota and two against Mississippi State in the bowl game. A great athlete who got bigger and stronger over the last few seasons, he was a top outside linebacker prospect who brought the athleticism to the outside. He'll be backed up by sophomore Deonte Gibson, one of the team's most disruptive forces in practices, and the 6-3, 240-pounder showed a little of his upside with nine tackles with two sacks and three quarterback hurries in his limited time.
6-6, 230-pound sophomore Dean Lowry is a terrific-looking option on the other side of Scott making 14 tackles with a sack and three tackles for loss with a team-leading six quarterback hurries. Extremely athletic with a great frame, he's a pure pass rusher who should be ready to do big things now that he has a bigger role.
Lowry is quick, 6-3, 220-pound redshirt freshman Ifeadi Odenigbo is even more athletic with an even bigger upside. A flash off the ball, the team's superstar recruit of last season will get his shot this season after suffering a shoulder injury early on. A four-star recruit and one of the best defensive prospects to sign on in the Pat Fitzgerald era, he's a guided missile with track star speed and a burst off the ball. An outside defender, he'll be used as a pass rusher and a dangerous all-around playmaker.
Junior Sean McEvilly is back on the inside after taking over a starting gig early on making 20 tackles with a sack. At 6-5 and 275 pounds he's not all that big and beefy, but he's active and quick to the ball. Strong for his size, he holds up well, while 6-3, 275-pound redshirt freshman Greg Kuhar is a fantastic prospect and a great get last season with phenomenal pass rushing skills. With his size and tools, he'll eventually be a statistical star.
Senior Will Hampton is one of the bigger options inside at 6-3 and 285 pounds, and with a little bit of experience, he has to be an anchor against the run after coming up with just nine tackles despite getting the starting job early on. While he's quick, he's not going to get into the backfield on a regular basis, while 6-3, 270-pound junior Chance Carter has good athleticism and pass rushing skills, but he didn't show them off last year making 15 tackles with no sacks and one tackle for loss. Great in practices, it's time to start producing as a bigger part of the rotation.
Watch Out For … Eric Joraskie, a 6-4, 265-pound tackle prospect who'll be more dangerous after he packs on a few pounds. A star high school swimmer and part-time tight end, to go along with his defensive duties, he's a good all-around athlete who fits what the Wildcats like to do up front.
Strength: Steady pass rush. The Wildcats brought the pressure from all sides and several spots, and it showed coming up with a few sacks a game. Consistent, the front four showed off its athleticism and it turned out to be terrific for the run defense.
Weakness: Raw bulk. It's a decent-sized line on the outside but it's not huge on the interior. It would be nice to have a few 300-pound big bodies to clog things up. The line relies on quickness more than size, but it's not the most physical of defensive fronts.
Outlook: There was a big, big improvement over recent years, and while this year's line won't turn out to be a brick wall, it'll be effective. Scott, Lowry and Odenigbo have to hit quarterbacks on a regular basis, and activity has to turn into accomplishments.
Unit Rating: 7
Going into the season, the linebacking corps had to find a spot for senior Damien Proby, and it did. The 6-0, 235-pounder led the team with 112 stops and 4.5 tackles for loss as a steady force throughout the Big Ten season. With 16 stops against Penn State, 14 against Indiana and 12 against Nebraska, Iowa and Michigan State, he came up with big game after big game as a sure-tackler who always got around the ball. With speed and range, he can play anywhere in the linebacking corps and should shine in the middle.
Junior Chi Chi Ariguzo is a 6-3, 220-pound all-around playmaker who can play either outside spot. Third on the team with 91 stops, he did a little of everything with three sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss with two picks and a team-leading four recovered fumbles. Fantastic in the open field, he made ten tackles for loss against Illinois and helped destroy Vanderbilt with ten tackles, three tackles for loss and a sack. Likely to work behind him is redshirt freshman Jaylen Prater, a safety-sized 6-0, 215-pound athlete who was an Ohio high school track star with sprinter's speed. If nothing else, he could turn into a third down specialist.
6-2, 225-pound junior Collin Ellis was supposed to be a key starter two years ago, but a hand injury kept him down and last year he struggled to do much with just nine tackles and a sack. Like a big safety playing linebacker, he moves around well and he packs a wallop, but he has to start producing against the run. Sophomore Drew Smith is another defensive back-sized linebacker at 6-1 and 205 pounds, but he showed he could hold up when given a chance making 17 tackles with two sacks. Active, he has a good burst to the ball.
Watch Out For … Anthony Walker Jr., a 6-2, 210-pound former wide receiver out of Miami who turned into a tough defender as both a linebacker and defensive back. The coaching staff has big plans for him on the outside.
Strength: Activity. Ariguzo, Proby and Ellis can all move and can all fly around to the ball. Size isn't much of a factor, but that's because they all hit the weights hard making the change from quick defensive backs to athletic linebackers.
Weakness: Pass defense. Ariguzo showed he could come up with big things against the pass, but the best pass defender on the lot, David Nwabuisi, has graduated. The athleticism tends to apply more to the pass rush than the pass defense.
Outlook: This quietly turned into a positive throughout last season thanks to the emergence of Proby and Ariguzo. With experience, options, and athletes to play around with, this should continue to be a major plus as the depth continues to progress and the established starters continue to shine.
Unit Rating: 7
Sophomore Nick VanHoose was every bit the star corner he was expected to become making 33 tackles with three sacks and seven broken up passes as a strong, physical ball-hawker on the outside. The 6-0, 185-pound former high school running back has shut down skills, but he's still progressing and is still getting his technique down. Tough, he can tackle in the open field without a problem.
It'll be a dogfight for the other corner job with 5-11, 170-pound junior Daniel Jones leading the way. He went from being a key backup to a nice starter making 33 tackles, but he didn't come up with any picks and only broke up four passes. While he'll find his way in the secondary somehow, he has to show he can use his tremendous speed and athleticism to make big plays when the ball is in the air. First he has to fight off Dwight White, an extremely promising 5-10, 178-pound redshirt freshman who looked like a potential starter all offseason with cut-on-a-dime quickness and great instincts. Also in the hunt is 5-11, 175-pound junior C.J. Bryant, who could see time as a nickel or dime defender coming off an 11 tackle season.
Junior Ibraheim Campbell is the tone-setter for the secondary and one of the team's leaders with 100 tackles two seasons ago and 88 last season to go along with two picks and a team-leading 12 broken up passes. The 5-11, 205-pound safety packs a good wallop and always finds his way around the ball, but he has to come up bigger on the deep post patters. The tools are there, but teams still challenge him. While Campbell is the star, sophomore Traveon Henry is getting there. The 6-1, 200-pounder had a great offseason as he seemed to settle in to a starting safety spot. Big and tough against the run, he should be able to let Campbell roam free a bit more.
Watch Out For … Godwin Igwebuike, arguably the team's top recruit – but for where? While he's a top running back prospect and could use his 6-0, 190-pound size and Ohio Mr. Football talents on the offensive side, his money could potentially be made in the defensive backfield as a superstar safety. With his range, quickness and talent, he'll shine no matter where he plays.
Strength: Giving up the big play – for the most part, and more on that in a moment. There were a few very, very glaring exceptions, but throughout the year the secondary clamped down and didn't get burned too badly on a regular basis after Syracuse's Ryan Nassib went nuts in the opener. On the year, the secondary allowed 18 touchdown passes but came up huge late with ten of the 13 picks coming in the final four games. Giving up 11.3 yards per catch isn't bad, but …
Weakness: Giving up the really, really big play. The Wildcats were a bomb against Michigan and a few post patterns against Nebraska away from being 11-1 in the regular season. When push came to shove, Matt McGloin got hot and Penn State was able to get by NU on 51 passes, but it was Taylor Martinez's deep throws in Nebraska's comeback win and the Wolverine miracle that turned an otherwise epic season into just a very, very good one.
Outlook: The secondary has been a work in progress over the last several years, and now is when the payoff will come. Long an Achilles heel, the Wildcat secondary is coming off of its best season in a long while, and the key stars are returning with VanHoose and Campbell two terrific pieces to the puzzle and Henry a rising all-star. There will be breakdowns and a few rough outings, but for the most part, once the rotation is settled, this will be a positive.
Unit Rating: 7
While he didn't blast away on too many deep shots, senior Jeff Budzein was one of the nation's top kickers nailing 19-of-20 kicks with the lone miss coming from 53 yards out against Nebraska. A savior in the strange win over Boston College, he connected on all five of his field goal attempts and he hit three in the 23-20 win over Michigan State. No, he doesn't have a cannon, but he can connect from around 45 yards.
The punting game was solid even though senior Brandon Williams only averaged 39.9 yards per try. He put 21 inside the 20 and forced 18 fair catches, and while he didn't come up with too many blasts, he was solid as he worked well with a terrific punt coverage team.
Running back Venric Mark is one of the nation's top return men averaging a whopping 18.7 yards per punt return with a touchdown in the win over Syracuse and a 75-yarder against Penn State. Two years ago he averaged 35.1 yards per punt return, and averaged 22.9 yards per kickoff try, but he was still terrific even though he averaged just 19.8 yards per kickoff return. Receiver Tony Jones averaged 23.9 yards per kickoff return.
Watch Out For … Hunter Niswander, big 6-5, 210-pound dual/threat kicker who could take over both duties next season. Clutch, he also has a big leg with 50+ range and can blast away for the punting game.
Strength: Mark. He's a special punt returner who has to be avoided at all costs. While the averaged dipped on kickoff returns, he was still strong at times. Budzien is also a reliable plus.
Weakness: Huge legs. Williams had a few big kicks, but for the most part he didn't come up with too many blasts. Budzien tops out at around 45 yards and just can't get it there from 50.
Outlook: Phenomenal. Mark and Jones are two of the Big Ten's top returner men, Budzien has All-America potential, and Williams is solid and consistent. Throw in the excellent coverage teams, and Northwestern could win a game or two because of its special teams advantage.
Unit Rating: 8.5
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