One Less Day Til Football Season, Post 6: Defensive Tackle

Look out! There's a Brian Arnfelt behind you!

Look, I don't know why I broke down defensive line into two positions while offensive line is just one. And I'm not going to change it for anybody, unless I'm lazy next year and don't want to. 

NUsports.com has officially put all their player profiles into "2011 Football season" mode, which makes my life just about a trillion times easier when writing these. I'm not joking when I say I cried a little bit when I opened Brian Arnfelt's player page while writing this article to see NUsports' updated account of how Arnfelt might effect the defense. (Okay, I'm totally joking, but still, I'm infinitely happy.)

Days left til football: 38

Who dun it: You probably remember that I posted like 15 hours ago about some guy named Corbin Bryant, who is now a Chicago Bear. Corbin had been starting at defensive tackle since 2008 and had always done a decent job clogging up the middle with his strength. The other spot in NU's lineup was primarily handled by Jack DiNardo, although he missed a start against Iowa, clearly proving he's terrible because NU played well that game. They were backed up by Niko Mafuli and in a few instances earlier in the year, true freshman Will Hampton. Altogether, the unit at defensive tackle wasn't terribly impressive: NU's run defense was slipshod and you could count on opposing rushers getting 4-6 yards up the middle at will. And between the five guys who saw time at defensive tackle, the unit only recorded 1.5 sacks, by Bryant against Central Michigan. There was no area in which NU's defensive tackles excel.

Who's gone?: Bryant graduated after five years in the program and as of yesterday is now busy bearing down. Bryant was an extremely consistent player, but I'm not going to act like his performance wasn't replaceable. The question is whether its replaceable by somebody NU has on their roster. 

Lines I consider offensive: (Note: this was supposed to go into the "offensive line" post, but I forgot. So it goes here.)

1. "Flow tight like I was born Jewish" - Jay-Z, "This Can't Be Life": Certainly not the most offensive line about Jews in hip-hop but Jay-Z is certainly the most likely to drop one about Jews and their propensity to be greedy, good at being lawyers, or whatever he meant when he said he was the "Martha Stewart that's far from Jewish", so he gets the nod.

2. "You was a stillborn baby; your mother didn't want you, but you was still born" - Vast Aire of Cannibal Ox, "Iron Galaxy". Not actually offensive to me in any way, but probably the harshest thing I've ever heard said of anybody by someone else ever.

3. "I had a relative who died in the Holocaust, actually. Yeah, he got too drunk and fell off a guard tower." - a guy I'm friends with, who waited like three years before he felt comfortable making this joke.

4. 378-way tie, anybody who has ever questioned my drinking capabilities. 

Who got next?: DiNardo has one spot locked down, the other is apparently a battle between Arnfelt and Mafuli. Neither has ever been a truly prominent part of Northwestern's defense.

Is that an improvement?: At face value, somehow, this doesn't improve from last year: DiNardo stays DiNardo, you drop the most prominent member of the unit, and add two guys who have never truly distinguished themselves. But I can't really rule out improvement: Average would be a fantastic performance from this unit rather than rarely having a chance at shutting down running lanes. 

Who else we got?: Hampton and Chance Carter are listed as battling to back up Arnfelt. Carter is a convert from defensive end, Hampton was apparently good enough to necessitate being played as a true freshman but didn't make a ripple in a weak defensive line pool. I see both guys getting some occasional snaps, but neither being a major factor, as much as I think they can contribute down the road.

Rodger's three wishes:

1. More Niko: Every once in a while we hear about how good Niko Mafuli is, if only he could put together his conditioning and stamina. He's huge and purportedly talented. But he hasn't been able to play for long enough to show that. Well, now he's a senior: his conditioning isn't going to improve that much more before he's done here. Nothing against Arnfelt, but I'm just more intrigued by what Mafuli could be and would like to see him put it all together.

2. Competence against the rush: Northwestern allowed 5.15 yards per carry. 110th in the nation. Obviously that doesn't all have to do with the DT's - if there are more sacks, that numbers go down, if the linebackers were better at tackling, that goes down, etc. etc. - but that lack of push up front was absolutely murderous to NU's chances in some games. 

3. Play off Vince Browne: This will/has come up a lot. Vince Browne is the star of Northwestern's defense. Remember how NU's defensive tackles got 1.5 combined sacks last year? Browne had seven. He'll draw enough attention that the rest of Northwestern's line will have a slightly easier time doing work. Stack your best defensive tackle right there next to him. Make opposing defenses either pay or compensate for your talent.

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