What you need to know ... The
good: Northwestern forced 30 turnovers last year bailing
itself out of several big jams, and it should do so again with
nine returning starters. The bad: There might not be much
improvement to a run defense didn't stop anyone last year and a
total D that finished dead last in the nation allowing 480 yards
and 34 points per game. The line is very big and very, very
young. Consider it a work in progress outside of rising star
Kevin Mims at one end. A pass rush has to be generated from
somewhere, possibly from veteran outside linebackers Adam Kadela
and Nick Roach, while the middle should be fine even after the
loss of tackling machine Tim McGarigle. The secondary could
surprise if speedy corner Marquice Cole grows into an All-Big
Ten caliber playmaker and the safeties improve with the return
of Bryan Heinz, but the second corner spot will be an Achilles
heel all season long. Expect a bit of a 3-4 alignment at
times to get more athletes on the field and try to generate more
Tackles: Nick Roach, 77
Sacks: Kevin Mims, 2
Interceptions: Marquice Cole, 5
Star of the defense: Senior CB Marquice Cole
Player that has to step up and become a star: Sophomore
CB Eric Peterman
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Mike Dinard
Best pro prospect: Sophomore DE Kevin Mims
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Cole, 2) Mims, 3) LB
Strength of the defense: Linebacker, safety
Weakness of the defense:
Run defense, pass rush, second corner
Northwestern was very young and had never overcame the
loss of top end Loren Howard, who missed the entire year and now plays
for Arizona State. On the plus side, all the lumps taken should help the
overall production with three experienced sophomores ready to keep
growing into their roles led by an All-Big Ten player in the making in
end Kevin Mims. There's absolutely no reason whatsoever for the line to
have so many problems against the run considering it goes around 275
pounds per man along the two deep, but rushing the passer should once
again be a big problem after generating a mere 12 sacks last season.
The key to the unit: Find a steady pass rush and use
all the bulk to do more against the run.
Defensive Line Rating: 5.5
- DE Kevin Mims, Soph. - 41 tackles, 2 sacks, 4.5 TFL, 1
interception, 4 quarterback hurries
It took a little while, but Mims became a good defender by the end of
last season. At 6-3 and 280 pounds he has good size against the run and
has surprising athleticism as a pass rusher. Expect him to grow into one
of the team's top defenders and a possible All-Big Ten candidate if his
sack numbers go up.
- DT Adam Hahn, RFr.
Hahn turned into a good-looking producer this spring taking over one of
the starting tackle jobs looking to replace Barry Cofield. He's a quick
6-4 and 290 pounds adding more size than Keegan Kennedy.
- DT John Gill, Soph. - 26 tackles, 1 TFL
Gill was thrown into the fire as a true freshman and while he struggled
to be consistent against the run, he became one of the team's most
dependable players over the first half of the season. He's big at 295
pounds and durable, and now he has to start making more plays as the
potential anchor up front. His emergence as a playmaker will allow the
defense to use a little more 3-4.
David Ngene, Jr. - 12 tackles, 1 TFL
A knee problem limited him early in his career, and he wasn't able to
get in the starting mix after the season opener against Ohio last year.
He's a very strong, good-sized player at 260 pounds with the speed to
grow into a consistent pass rusher.
- DE Mark Koehn, Jr. - 25 tackles, 2 TFL
The 270-pound Koehn has to be more productive. He was a decent reserve
last season even though he wasn't an effective pass rusher and didn't do enough
against the run considering his size. If Kevin Mims plays as expected on
the other side, Koehn has to flourish seeing plenty of one-on-one
- DT Keegan Kennedy, Soph. - 7 tackles, 1 sack
The 280-pound Kennedy saw a little bit of time as a true freshman making
most of his plays early in the season and then in the regular season
finale against Illinois. He isn't huge, but he's a promising interior
pass rusher looking to fill the hole left by Barry Cofield.
- DT Matt Clark, Soph.
At 290 pounds he has the size along with the talent to become a major
factor on the inside, but he hasn't been able to stay healthy with ankle
and leg injuries keeping him out over his first two seasons. He's
expected to be 100% and should be a major part of the rotation behind
- DT Warren Anderson, Jr.
A good recruit for Northwestern a few years ago, Anderson has the size
to be a major factor on the inside and the motor to become a top
interior pass rusher, but he hasn't been able to put it all together yet
and see meaningful playing time. He'll start out behind John Gill.
There's plenty of experience on the outside with the
return of Nick Roach and Adam Kadela, but the juniors have to make more
big plays. They can tackle, and now they have get in the backfield more
and make more positive things happen after spending most of last year
making stops five yards down the field. Tim McGarigle and his 548 career
tackles are gone from the middle, but Adam Kadela and rising
sophomore Mike Dinard aren't bad options on the inside. The depth will
be a bit of an issue early on.
The key to the unit: Coming up with more stops at the
line and generating a more pressure on the quarterback from the outside.
Linebacker Rating: 6
- Nick Roach, Jr. - 77 tackles, 1 sack, 3.5 TFL, 1
Roach overcame a hernia that almost kept him out of the first part of
the season turning out to be just fine finishing second on the
team in tackles. He didn't turn out to be the pass rusher he was
expected to be on the outside, but now that he's healthy he should be an
all-around terror he was starting to become as a sophomore.
Adam Kadela, Jr. - 71 tackles, 1 sack, 3.5 TFL, 1 interception,
2 force fumbles
The 245-pound senior has to try to fill the shoes and the production of
Tim McGarigle on the inside.
Kadela finished third on the team in tackles coming off a leg problem
that cost him almost all of 2004. He's a good all-around defender on the
strongside who has the strength and experience to take over in the
- Demetrius Eaton, Sr. - 14 tackles, 1 broken up pass
The 250-pound senior has been tried out in the middle and will end up
starting on the strongside. He has seen a little bit of time as a
defensive end and has 47 tackles of experience as a reserve over the
last three years with good athleticism to go along with his size. He'll
be used as a hybrid of linebacker and end when the D uses the 3-4.
- Campbell Black, Sr. - 5 tackles
Mostly a special teamer so far, Black is a quick option on the weakside
behind Nick Roach. He has seen enough time to be more in the rotation
- Mike Dinard, Soph. - 5 tackles
Fine, so he isn't Tim McGarigle, but he has the same sort of build and
is a sure tackler. He mostly played on special teams last year and needs
to develop on the inside to give the defense more options.
It's possible the secondary will be better and yet won't
improve much on the 262 yards per game it got torched for last season.
Marquice Cole is a lightning fast corner who'll be one of the best in
the Big Ten this year now that he's completely over an ankle injury, and
the safety situation won't be bad with rising star Bryan Heinz back from
a torn ACL that cost him most of last year and talent at free safety
with Brendan Smith and Reggie McPherson combining for the job. That's
where the positives stop. It's going to be an open casting call for the
second corner spot looking for anyone to knock Cory Dious out of the
starting job. There's no depth whatsoever at either corner spot hoping
for former receivers Gerard Hamlett and Eric Peterman to learn on the
The key to the unit: Finding a number two corner and
quickly developing a few backups who can play.
Secondary Rating: 5.5
- CB Marquice Cole, Sr. - 46 tackles, 5 interceptions, 5
broken up passes
Cole is the team's leading returning defensive back, and he has to be
even better this year shutting down one side until all the new faces can
grow into their roles. He appears to have suffered no lingering effects
from the ankle injury that knocked him out two years ago as he kept his
4.3 speed and remained a good ball-hawker.
- SS Bryan Heinz, Sr. - 5 tackles, 1 interception
The return of Heinz is a huge boost to the secondary after he missed
most of last year with a torn ACL. He came back to see time in the Sun
Bowl and made five tackles, but he needed this off-season to get to
where he was at before the injury. The defense struggled all year to
find a replacement to match his tackling ability.
- FS Brendan Smith, Soph. - 29 tackles, 3 broken up passes
Smith's emergence as a true freshman gave the coaching staff plenty of
options at free safety early on becoming a big playmaker before getting
knocked out late in the year with a sprained knee. He's a fantastic
athlete who could play strong safety if needed.
- CB Eric Peterman, Soph. - 12 catches, 181 yds, 15.1 ypc, 2 TD
The former quarterback and wide receiver will get the first show at
right cornerback ... for now. At 6-1 and 200 pounds, Peterman has the
size needed to push Cory Dious out of a starting spot to go along with
good speed. Now he has to prove he can be somewhat consistent on the
- FS Reggie McPherson, Jr. - 57 tackles, 2 broken up
The emergence of Brendan Smith has pushed McPherson to a backup role,
but the former receiver has starting experience and adds plenty of speed
to the secondary. He's a true free safety who was decent against the
run, but has to make more plays when the ball is in the air.
- CB Andrew Butler, Soph. - 1 tackle
A special teamer as a sophomore, Butler is one of the few true corner
backups. He's a fantastic athlete who'll be the understudy behind
Marquice Cole for another year.
- CB Cory Dious, Sr. - 18 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 broken up pass
Dious is one of the keys to the secondary. He's not all that big at 5-9
and 170 pounds and he was shaky at best last year in his limited time as
a reserve and in his starts against Wisconsin and Illinois. He'll be
tested every time he's on the field with everyone looking to stay away from Marquice
Cole on the other side.
The kickers are good, but nothing special, but the
coverage units have to be better. On the plus side, Marquice Cole is a
tremendous punt returner averaging 27 yards a pop on eight tries
highlighted by an 81-yard touchdown against Northern Illinois. Gerard
Hamlett averaged a solid 22.3 yards on kickoff returns.
The key to the unit: Get more blast out of the
punting game and better overall coverage on punts after allowing 11.7
yards per return.
Special Teams Rating: 6.5
- PK Joel Howells, Sr. - 11-21 FGs, 45-48 extra points
Howells was perfect from short range connecting on all seven attempts
from inside the 30, but he has limited range connecting on just two of
ten shots from outside of 40 yards. He won't hurt the team, but he won't
be a weapon, either.
- P Slade Larscheid, Sr. - 10 punts, 388 yds, 38.8 average, 2
inside the 20
It'll be a bit of a battle to replace Ryan Pederson, and it shouldn't
take much to improve on last year's overall production. Larscheid is
more of an accurate punter than a boomer, but he has a good leg and
could end up coming in on long field goal attempts.