2007 Northwestern Preview - Defense
Northwestern Wildcat Defense
Preview 2007 Defense
2007 NU Preview
2007 NU Offense
2007 NU Depth Chart
What you need to know:
Even though there wasn't much in the way of a pass rush, there weren't
any plays in the backfield, and the run defense struggled, the
defense made major strides after a disastrous 2005. Now this
should be one of the better Wildcat defenses in years with a
big, talented front four that should start generating some sort
of consistent pressure. Adam Kadela leads a decent linebacking
corps, while the safety tandem of Brendan Smith and Reggie
McPherson should be rock-solid. This isn't a fast defense and
it's thin in key areas like free safety and tackle, but there's
enough all-around talent to keep the mediocre offenses under
Tackles: Adam Kadela, 80
Sacks: Corey Wootton, 4.5
Interceptions: Brendan Smith, 3
Star of the defense: Sophomore DE Corey Wootton
Player that has to step up and become a star: Senior CB
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DT Adam Hahn
Best pro prospect: Wootton
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Wootton, 2) LB Adam
Kadela, 3) SS Brendan Smith
Strength of the defense: Defensive line, safety
Weakness of the defense: Backup safety, proven pass rush
Projected Starters: It's not a stretch to
suggest the key to the team's defensive performance rests on the 6-7,
275-pound frame of emerging star Corey Wootton. The big sophomore
came on last season to become an Honorable Mention All-Big Ten performer
making 51 tackles, 4.5 sacks and nine tackles for loss showing no ill
effects from a neck injury that kept him out all of 2005. His big reach
allowed him to alter throwing lanes while picking off two passes.
all the attention to be paid to Wootton on one side, the starter on the
other side should see plenty of single blocking. There will likely be a
rotation between senior Mark Koehn and versatile junior Kevin
Mims in the 4-3 front with each getting a few starts. The 6-3,
270-pound Mims saw plenty of action at tackle last season making 38
stops to go along with two tackles for loss. He's a fiery leader who has
the potential to use his size, motor, and strength to be a major factor
inside or out. Koehn is more of a true end, though he has to become more
of a pass rusher. He came up with two sacks and 14 tackles, and now he
should double that with more playing time.
Inside, 290-pound true junior
John Gill is still developing as a run stopper, but he has a
world of potential and could end up playing at the next level. He made
40 tackles last season and started to improve at getting into the
Alongside him is 6-4, 295-pound sophomore Adam Hahn,
who'll emerge as potential All-Big Ten player after a 28 tackle season,
He was dinged up early on, but now he has a year of experience, has
gotten stronger, and should be special.
Projected Top Reserves: A knee injury limited
260-pound senior David Ngene from the start of last season, and
then he had a problem with an ankle injury. While he hasn't been able to
stay healthy, he has the quickness and the size to be a pass rushing
force behind Wootton, or on the other side as part of the rotation.
Along with Mark Koehn and Kevin Mims, redshirt freshman Corbin Bryant
will see plenty of time at end. Still very raw, the 6-4, 275-pound
Bryant is still developing, and is still trying to find a spot after
breaking his leg early last year and earning a medical hardship. He has
All-Big Ten potential, but it's probably not going to shine through for
a few years.
Inside, 265-pound sophomore Marshall Thomas and
285-pound Keegan Kennedy are capable reserves. Kennedy has done a
good job of putting putting on weight and getting stronger, and now he
should be better against the run playing behind Adam Hahn. Thomas is a
true sophomore and just scratching the surface of how good he can
Watch Out For ... More production in the
backfield. Much more. The Wildcats struggled to get to the quarterback
throughout last season, but if Corey Wootton continues to progress, and
Mark Koehn, Kevin Mims and David Ngene can take advantage of the
opportunity on the other side, look out.
Strength: Size across the front. While there's not
a whole slew of speed, and there aren't any space-eaters, it's a good
sized front four averaging around 280 pounds per man. That has to mean
more production against the run.
Weakness: Proven interior rush. While the tackles
have a world of potential, they didn't do a good enough job of
collapsing the pocket. The tackles have to turn the promise into
Outlook: On potential, this could be the best
Northwestern line in a long, long time, if not ever. It would be nice of
Wootton became the type of pass rusher who commands double and triple
teaming every play, and it would be even better if the rest of the line
could come up with one thing it does really, really well. Watch for this
group, either in a 3-4 or a 4-3, to get better and better as the season
Projected Starters: After having to try to
fill the big shoes left by tackling machine Tim McGarigle, senior
Adam Kadela is starting to make a name for himself with 151 tackles
in the last two seasons after coming off knee and hamstring injuries.
While he has the quickness to handle himself well on the outside, the
240-pounder is far better suited for the middle. If he can finally stay
healthy, he should hit triple-digits in tackles.
On the weakside will be
junior Mike Denard, a good-sized defender who might be a better
fit for the middle. He has a little bit of experience making 21 tackles
in two years, and now he has to prove he can stay healthy and handle
himself in pass coverage.
Senior Eddie Simpson will get the first
look on the strongside after making 37 tackles and two sacks in a
reserve role for most of the season behind Nick Roach before starting
the final four games. While he's not blazing fast, he should be a
regular in the backfield now that he'll have a full-time starting job.
Projected Top Reserves: Is junior Malcolm
Arrington ready to shine? Mostly a special teamer throughout his
career, the 235-pounder has the talent and hitting ability to be a major
factor. He'll start out in the middle behind Adam Kadela after making
ten tackles as a reserve, but he could see time as a starter if the
Wildcats switch to a 3-4.
Senior Chris Malleo, a former
backup quarterback and receiver, has found a home on the defensive side
making six tackles as a reserve. Now he'll backup Mike Dinard on the
weakside and could see time on the strongside in a rotation. Also in the
mix on the weakside is 230-pound sophomore Chris Jeske, who
missed all of the last two seasons with a back problem. He was a star
recruit, and now he finally appears ready to shine.
On the other
side will be junior Prince Kwateng, who was starting to come on
as a special teamer and a reserve before injuring his knee against Iowa.
He's 235 pounds, strong, and physical, but his skills have to translate
into production. Before getting hurt, he had the talent to be a star on
the inside, and now he could be the X factor in the corps.
Watch Out For ...: Kadela to explode. Unable to be
100% for a full season, if he stays healthy, he could be an All-Big Ten
performer and a leader the front seven sorely needs.
Strength: Size. This group won't get shoved around
too often and should build on the experience gained at the end of last
season to be better against the run. While there's not a lot of
developed depth, the projected backups might turn out to be just as
talented as the starters.
Weakness: Speed. NU won't get into the backfield
too often with these outside linebackers and will have to be extremely
crafty if they try to blitz. Getting pushed won't be an issue, but
getting to the ball on a consistent basis might be.
Outlook: Playing linebacker for Pat Fitzgerald is
a little like being Dave Grohl's drummer; these guys have to live up to
some lofty standards. While this isn't the most talented group around,
and it's not going to be a brick wall against the run, it should improve
on the strides made from 2005 to 2006 and be effective enough to not be
a glaring weakness.
Projected Starters: The strength in the
secondary should be at safety where free safety Reggie McPherson
and strong safety Brendan Smith could be the Big Ten's most
productive duo that you won't hear one word about. Smith turned in an
Honorable Mention All-Big Ten season finishing second on the team with
68 tackles to go along with a team-leading three interceptions. He has
good size at 6-1 and 210 pounds and excellent range. Now that the junior
knows what he's doing, he should make more plays when the ball is in the
McPherson has blossomed into a solid free safety making better
decisions as last year went on while growing into a good hitter. The
former wide receiver came off a back problem to finish fifth on the team
in tackles and lead the team with seven broken up passes and four
quarterback hurries. Cornerback is a little more of a wild-card.
Deante Battle is a better tackler than his 5-10, 180-pound frame
might suggest making ten stops against Purdue and ten more against Iowa
making most of them in the open field. With running back quickness, he's
able to cut on a dime with great change of direction. Now he has to be a
true number one, shut-down corner with more interceptions. Finishing
third on the team in tackles with 67 is nice; picking off more than one
pass would be better.
On the other side is sophomore Sherrick McManis,
who's a bit bigger than Battle and has better straight-line wheels. Fast
enough to be the team's top kickoff return option, he has good make-up
speed and should grow into a top defender after spending the second half
of last year as a spot starter.
Projected Top Reserves: 6-4 true sophomore Brad
Phillips is a taller strong safety option than Smith, and now he
just needs a little bit of experience. He saw a little bit of time as a
reserve and on special teams making seven tackles, but with his size and
quickness, he'll emerge as a major factor in the rotation.
McPherson at free safety is senior Ben Rothrauff, who doesn't
have size, speed or talent, but plays with a walk-on's heart on special
teams. He'll be pushed by junior Chaz Richart for playing time.
One of the team's most versatile defensive backs is 6-2, 195-pound
junior David Oredugba, who can play corner or free safety. He's
mostly been a special teamer so far, and now he'll get time behind
McManis on one side.
Redshirt freshman Justan Vaughn will be a
major contributor behind Battle after missing most of last season with
an injured arm. He's one of the team's most talented defensive backs
with good tackling ability and fluid cover skills; he'll be starting
sooner than later.
Watch Out For ...: More interceptions. The Wildcat
secondary only came up with eight interceptions, and that could quickly
change if the front seven can start generating a little more pressure.
As Deante Battle and Sherrick McManis get more comfortable, they'll
start making more big plays.
Strength: Safety. Reggie McPherson and Brendan
Smith won't be in the NFL, but they'll form one of the Big Ten's best
tandems. As long as they avoid getting beat by the deep balls down the
middle, the secondary should be fine.
Weakness: Safety depth. McPherson and Smith can't
get hurt or there'll be trouble. Brad Phillips is an interesting option
at strong safety, but there will be big, big problems if Ben Rothrauff
and Chaz Richart are seeing any appreciable time at free safety.
Outlook: Only Ohio State's Troy Smith threw for
more than two touchdown passes on the NU defensive backs, and there
won't likely be too many torchings with most of the key players
returning. While this won't be the most exciting secondary around, it
won't be bad. There are enough good corner options to be solid in nickel
and dime situations, while the safeties will be good enough to keep the
big plays to a minimum.
Projected Starters: Redshirt freshman
Stefan Demos and junior Arnado Villarreal will compete to
replace the reliable Josh Howells, who didn't have the biggest leg, but
hit eight of 12 field goal attempts. Demos, who has 50-yard range, will
also battle with junior Kyle Daley for the punting duties.
Villarreal doesn't have nearly the same leg Demos has, but he'll get his
shots to win the job if he can prove to be consistent from inside the
35. Daley is a career backup punter and could see time as a placekicker
if Demos and Villarreal fall flat.
Junior safety Brendan Smith,
who averaged 11.8 yards on four punt returns, will get the first
shot at replacing Marquice Cole, who averaged just 3.5 yards.
Sherrick McManis and Omar Conteh will try to revive a dead
kickoff return game that averaged just 18 yards per try.
Watch Out For .. More pop on the punt returns.
Smith has the quickness to make the first man miss and should break one
or two big.
Strength: Kicking options. With three players in
the mix, the coaching staff should be able to find someone who can
consistently connect, but ...
Weakness: ... there's no proven production. It
might take half the season before anyone feels comfortable with the
Outlook: The coaching staff would ideally like to
have specialists for each kicking job, but if one player, most likely
Demos, is the best at kickoffs, field goals and punting, he'll get the
nod. The coverage units were fine last year giving up 8.3 yards per punt
return and 20.1 yards per kickoff return, but they could be better.