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2010 Northwestern Preview - Defense
Northwestern PK Stefan Demos
Northwestern PK Stefan Demos
Posted May 13, 2010 2010 Preview - Northwestern Wildcat Defense

Northwestern Wildcats

Preview 2010 - Defense

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What You Need To Know: Mike Hankwitz’s defense wasn’t a rock, but it did just enough to get by and came up big in key spots. While there are some big personnel losses, including end Corey Wootton and top corner Sherrick McManis, there’s tremendous upside on a line that should form a great rotation and shouldn’t have a problem getting into the backfield, while the secondary has enough good prospects to not fall off the map. The linebacking corps could end up being among the best in the Big Ten if Nate Williams (shoulder) and Quentin Davie (foot) can stay healthy, and everyone will be asked to fly around and get into the backfield. Even with five starters gone, this is a tough, deep, athletic defense that should be hitting its stride in the Pat Fitzgerald era. This is the D the coach has wanted, and now it has to be stronger against the more efficient passing teams and tighter against the power running offenses.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Quentin Davie, 90
Sacks: Vince Browne, Quentin Davie, 5
Interceptions: Jordan Mabin, Nate Williams, 2

Star of the defense: Junior LB Quentin Davie
Player who has to step up and be a star: Senior CB Justan Vaughn
Unsung star on the rise: Junior S Brian Peters
Best pro prospect: Junior DE Vince Browne
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Davie, 2) LB Nate Williams, 3) Browne
Strength of the defense: Linebackers, Getting Into The Backfield
Weakness of the defense: Shutdown Corner, Sacks

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: Step one on the line will be to replace new Chicago Bear, Corey Wootton on the end. Junior Kevin Watt appears to be ready to step into the role after getting two starts in the middle of last season and finishing the year with ten tackles and two sacks. The 6-4, 265-pounder might not be Wootton, but he has the potential to be a dangerous pass rusher with excellent athleticism and big-time upside.

Back on the other side is junior Vince Browne, a 6-5, 265-pound veteran who tied for the team lead with five sacks to go along with eight tackles for loss and 39 tackles. One of the team’s strongest players, he has a great combination of speed, size, and athleticism, but now he has to prove he can produce as the marked man. The former linebacker should be an all-star and a regular in opposing backfields once again.

6-4, 290-pound Corbin Bryant is a nice inside presence with just enough size to clog things up and a good step into the backfield if he gets a big gap to get through. A tweener with 3-4 end ability, the senior was on the road to being dominant before breaking his leg a few years ago and following it up with a knee injury. He has grown into the role on the inside making 30 tackles with 2.5 sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss, and he has all-star potential with a little more publicity and another year of luck with his health.

Junior Jack DiNardo , nephew of former Indiana and LSU head coach Gerry DiNardo, has yet to make much of an impact with just three tackles in each of the last two seasons, but the 6-4, 290-pounder will finally get more of a chance in the rotation. A quick tackle with the potential to be a good interior pass rusher, the spotlight will be on to see if he can be a steady replacement for Adam Hahn and Marshall Thomas inside.

Projected Top Reserves: Sophomore Quentin Williams was supposed to be at the ready on the end in case Corey Wootton’s knee didn’t hold up. The 6-4, 240-pounder is more of an outside linebacker than an end, but he’s a terrific athlete with the strength to hold up against the run. Now he has to get to the quarterback after failing to come up with a tackle for loss and making just 14 tackles with an interception as a backup.

Bringing the size to the interior is 6-3, 310-pound junior Niko Mafuli , a big brick of a run stopper who is trying to work his way into more of a role. He managed to make six tackles and 1.5 sacks in his minimal time, and if he can keep working and keep getting into better shape, he’ll be a bigger part of the rotation with Jack DiNardo.

A pair of promising redshirt freshmen will combine to fill a backup spot behind Vince Browne. 6-3, 250-pound Davon Custis was a decent recruit last season with track speed and good drive. He has to show he can hold up at the FBS level as a run stopper, but his athleticism and quickness makes him intriguing as a situational pass rusher. 6-2, 230-pound Anthony Battle is a big-time prospect who could’ve gone to several other places but should eventually be a regular in the backfield for the Wildcat line. He needs to become a closer on the quarterback, but he’ll blow past most offensive tackles.

Watch Out For … Watt. Wootton had a good year, but he still wasn’t fully back to 100% from his knee injury and came up with 21 tackles and four sacks. Watt made two sacks and ten tackles, and he has double-digit sack skills with most of the attention paid to Browne on the other side.
Strength: Size. As always, the Wildcat line is full of 3-4 ends. While there isn’t a ton of bulk for the interior, the 290-pound Bryant and DiNardo are big enough to go along with the 265-pound ends Watt and Browne.
Weakness: Proven backups. This didn’t turn out to be a big deal last season and there’s great promise among the 2010 reserves. Custis and Battle are going to be good, and sophomores Quentin Williams and Brian Arnfelt will be a big part of the equation, but they’re still question marks if a rash of injuries hits the starting front four.
Outlook: Very quietly, Northwestern’s lines have been terrific over the last few years. There was a concern about health going into last year, but the front four still managed to get to the quarterback and was solid against the run. This year’s line has the potential to be terrific if Watt is as good as expected and if there can be a decent tackle rotation.
Unit Rating: 7.5


Projected Starters: As long as senior Quentin Davie doesn’t have any problems with a troubled foot, he should be one of the Big Ten’s leading tacklers. The 6-4, 230-pound veteran led the team with 90 tackles with five sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss, and he was also solid against the pass with a pick and three broken up passes. A good-sized outside linebacker and a possible hybrid player with end skills, he manages do a little of everything right with good range, terrific timing as a pass rusher, and good toughness. With another decent year he’ll be get some all-star recognition.

Senior Nate Williams would’ve been the team’s leading tackler if he didn’t miss the Syracuse game. The 6-2, 235-pound man in the middle made 86 tackles with a sack and two tackles for loss but he underwent shoulder surgery this offseason. He’s expected to be healthy and ready to go by the start of the season, but his big hitting style could get him banged up again in a hurry. Very quick, the one-time star recruit is growing into the job and is proving to grow into a big-time playmaker who eats up everything that comes his way.

6-4, 220-pound junior Ben Johnson is built like a big safety instead of a linebacker, but he’s a good pass rusher on the outside and has the athleticism to do even more in a starting role. He started the first five games of last year and was a spot starter the rest of the way as he couldn’t shake a leg injury. While he only finished with 28 tackles and a sack with 3.5 tackles for loss, he also came up with a key interception for a 70-yard score against Eastern Michigan. A great special teamer over the years, he should be a disruptive force.

Projected Top Reserves: Combining with Ben Johnson on the outside will be junior Bryce McNaul, a 6-4, 230-pound veteran who made six tackles as a reserve. Hurt throughout the first part of his career, he’s healthy, has great upside, and is versatile enough to see time inside or out. The quickness is there to be a pass rushing specialist if he’s not a starter.

Sophomore David Nwamuisi is a strong prospect with good size and enough range to eventually become a top tackler. The 6-0, 235-pounder saw time as a reserve making nine tackles and a tackle for loss. A good backup option in the middle, he’ll be a top tackler if Quentin Davie has problems with his foot.

6-2, 220-pound sophomore Roderick Goodlow saw a little bit of time as a true freshman working mostly on special teams. Now he’ll play in the rotation on the outside after coming up with seven tackles and showing good upside. Originally considered a big safety prospect, he has the athleticism to be used in a variety of ways.

Watch Out For … Davie and Williams to be among the Big Ten’s best linebacking duos. The two didn’t receive much recognition last year, but Pat Fitzgerald is a huge fan of these two and they should combine to make close to 200 tackles.
Strength: Veterans. Three starters are back along with some nice reserves in Nwabuisi, McNaul, and Goodlow who could all step in and shine if needed. There’s a drop-off between the ones and twos, but it’s not a ten-mile wide gap.
Weakness: Potential health problems. Davie and Williams are expected to be fine, but if they have any problems with their respective foot and shoulder issues, the linebacking corps loses two all-star candidates.
Outlook: If everyone is healthy, the linebackers should be among the best and the most productive in the Big Ten. Davie and Williams are good, active hitters, while the reserves are strong enough to provide a good rotation. The stat sheet will be filled up with plenty of plays in the backfield and a few picks.
Unit Rating: 8


Projected Starters: Only one starter returns, and he’s a good one. 5-11, 180-pound junior Jordan Mabin started every game last year at corner and finished fourth on the team with 75 tackles (and led the team with 57 solo stops) with two interceptions, but he didn’t break up any passes. A superstar high school offensive playmaker, he was one of the team’s top recruits in 2007 and he’s playing up to his upside. Very quick and with the toughness to play safety if needed, he’s the team’s top defensive back by far.

Trying to replace star corner Sherrick McManis is senior Justan Vaughn, a 6-0, 190-pound senior who saw spot-starting duty last year making seven tackles with an interception, but he wasn’t healthy struggling through a leg injury throughout the season. Staying on the field has been a problem with a shoulder injury keeping him out two years ago, but when he’s right he’s a good tackler with fluid athleticism. He’ll be picked on, and he has to show he can come through.

Sophomore Jared Carpenter is looking for a home. The 6-0, 205-pounder was supposed to be a safety, played at linebacker at times throughout last year making 17 tackles, and now will be a physical defensive back with great hitting skills and nice range. He has the potential to be one of the team’s top tacklers and has a good nose for being around the ball. With his ability, he could quickly grow into a statistical star and one of the defensive high risers.

6-4, 215-pound junior Brian Peters was a good nickel back making 35 tackles in 2008, and he was a bigger playmaker last year as a regular starter over the second half of the season at strong safety as well as a key five defensive back. With good size and great hitting ability, he finished fifth on the team with 67 tackles with three interceptions and a team-leading three recovered fumbles, and now he has the upside to be fantastic with great experience and the talent to do far more now that he has the full-time job to himself.

Projected Top Reserves: 6-1, 210-pound junior David Arnold spent most of last year working at linebacker, getting five starts on the outside, making 34 tackles with two sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss in nine games. Now he’ll move over to safety where he’ll be a key nickel back and will rotate with Jared Carpenter to get him on the field even more. He had problems with a knee injury early in his career, but he’s fine now and he’ll produce whenever he gets a chance.

Evanston native Mike Bolden was a key backup corner two years ago, but he was limited last year making just one tackle. The 6-1, 195-pound junior was a star scout teamer at times and he was expected to take over the starting job going into this year, but he’ll start out as a backup working with Justan Vaughn at one spot.

Built like a corner and seeing most of his time on special teams, 5-10, 175-pound Hunter Bates has been a star on coverage teams and managed four tackles on the year. He’ll get a shot in the safety rotation this season and should show good range and toughness for his size. Getting in on tackles isn’t a problem.

Watch Out For … Mabin. McManis might have been the star of last year’s secondary, but Mabin did more for the running game. Now he has to be a shut-down type who makes teams pay when they throw his way. He can tackle, and now he has to make picks.
Strength: Options. There are plenty of good prospects who have been waiting their turn. Peters should be fantastic with an expanded role, Carpenter and Arnold will shine at safety, and Vaughn and Bolden have the potential to be good with a little more time at corner. The coaching staff will have pieces to play around with.
Weakness: Shut down ability. The Cats got all four starters back last year and was hardly a rock allowing 200 yards or more in seven of the final 11 games. Mabin is a proven tackler, but he didn’t do enough when the ball was in the air, and the jury is out on Vaughn and Bolden on the other side.
Outlook: Considering the pass rush was fantastic, the secondary should’ve been better. While losing three starters might seem like a problem, the expected emergence of Mabin and Peters as bigger playmakers should help ease the transition. The depth is surprisingly solid for a secondary needing to make so many replacements.
Unit Rating: 6.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: Senior Stefan Demos is back after a strong year hitting 18-of-25 field goals with five of the misses coming from beyond 40 yards. He nailed a key 47-yarder against Iowa and an important 49-yard bomb against Eastern Michigan, and the coaches aren’t afraid to let him try anything inside 50 yards. However, he was a disaster as a punter averaging just 35 yards per kick, and while he’ll get a shot to get the job back, he’ll likely give way to walk-on Brandon Williams , a promising redshirt freshman who showed more blast and more consistency this off-season.

Gone are the top punt return options Brendan Smith and Andrew Brewer, and now it’ll be up to corner Jordan Mabin and safety Hunter Bates to add more pop. The Cats averaged just 6.3 yards per punt return last year with Bates averaging just 3.7 yards per try on his three attempts.

Running back Stephen Simmons was fine on kickoff returns averaging 25 yards per try, but the team averaged just 20.61 yards per try. Simmons will up that as he’s the No. 1 option.

Watch Out For … Williams. The Wildcats were 115th in the nation in punting, but Demos put 16 inside the 20 and forced 17 fair catches. He’ll still get a few chances to get the punting job back, but Williams could be the better option with more deep shots. Demos’s longest punt was just 47 yards.
Strength: Demos. While he got a few kicks blocked and he wasn’t always solid from deep, he showed off a big enough leg to be counted on whenever needed … except for the bowl game. Forget about the painful misses from 48 and 44 yards out against Auburn; he’s a good, clutch kicker.
Weakness: Punting. There are several issues with the Wildcat special teams, but the punting game was the biggest problem with no pop whatsoever. Williams doesn’t have to do much to make things better.
Outlook: Demos is a solid kicker and Simmons could be a special kickoff returner, but everything else needs work. The kickoff coverage team allowed 21.4 yards per try, the punt return team allowed 9.9 yards per attempt, and the punt return game was abysmal. There’s a lot of work to be done.
Unit Rating: 5.5

- 2010 Northwestern Preview | 2010 Northwestern Offense
- 2010 Northwestern Defense | 2010 Northwestern Depth Chart
- Northwestern Previews  2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006