This is the latest in our offseason musings series, which is basically a series of columns about random thoughts that we have throughout the offseason. Chris and I discuss things like this every day, and the ones that we think warrant posts will be part of this series. You can check out the series so far, and send us tips of topics you’d like to see on Twitter at @insidenu, or find one of our email addresses on our contact page. We can also include your opinion in some of our submissions. So without further ado, check out our analysis on NU’s recent offensive line recruiting.
Lots of people are down on Northwestern’s offensive line this year, and like my colleague Chris Johnson, I don’t think there’s that much to worry about. I understand the concerns, since the Wildcats will be replacing starters at guard and shifting around their tackles, but there’s still a lot of talent coming back — arguably more than there was last year. Jack Konopka and Paul Jorgensen both have experience at tackle, while Shane Mertz looks ready to become a major contributor. At guard, Geoff Mogus is poised to grab a starting role, while Matt Frazier has plenty of playing experience and redshirt freshman Adam DePietro — a former four-star recruit — is very talented and ready to push for a major role. Last year’s offensive line took a little time to come together, but ended up being very productive. Considering the wealth of youth and talent on this year’s team, it could follow a very similar path.
This year has the potential to be NU’s best overall season in a long time, but as far as the offensive line goes the future may be even more exciting, and it all starts with recruiting. The Wildcats’ last three classes have built a very strong base for the offensive line, and now they’re off to a good start in 2014. The “great offensive line haul” started in the class of 2011. There’s the potential that four of those players could start on this year’s line, but even if some don’t, they’ll all see significant playing time. That class brought in tackle Jack Konopka, a true junior who switched from superback to tackle after his freshman year. He’ll start on the left side this year, but depending on his development and the development of other players, he could also end up on the right. Three other linemen who redshirted in that class — guard Geoff Mogus, guard Matt Fraizer and tackle Shane Mertz — will all compete for starting positions.
The class of 2012 might not make a huge impact next year, but it has some players poised to receive significant playing time in the coming years. Guard Adam DePietro — a former four-star recruit — is the one lineman from the class who could compete for a starting spot and will see a lot of playing time regardless. Tackles Kenton Playko and Eric Olson should both see time as backups, while Ian Park will have an “understudy” type of role to junior Brandon Vitabile at center. As for the the 2013 class, it’s tough to judge since they haven’t been on campus yet, but if you trust recruiting rankings, they look like a solid group. So here’s who NU has brought in over the past few years:
Tackle — Jack Konopka (Jr), Shane Mertz (So), Kenton Playko (RS Fr), Eric Olson (RS Fr), Sam Coverdale (Fr)
Guard/Center — Geoff Mogus (So), Matt Frazier (So), Adam DePietro (RS Fr), Ian Park (RS Fr), Tyler Lancaster (Fr), Brad North (Fr), Blake King (Fr)
That’s a heck of a lot of depth, and it doesn’t even include the veterans who are left for this season, including Paul Jorgensen and Brandon Vitabile. No matter how many great skill players NU has, the offensive line has to come together, or else the offense will struggle. The line also helps the Wildcats figure out their identity, and it needs to be good so NU can run the ball. Pat Fitzgerald always likes to establish the run, but many of his lines haven’t been able to run block as well as he would have liked. Last year’s unit could, and that was a major reason the Wildcats were so good on the ground.
For an offense to be effective, the offensive line has to be good. There’s the cliche that everything starts in the trenches, but it’s really true. No matter how many good skill position players NU has, it has to have a good offensive line to allow those skill position players to be effective. Due to the tremendous amount of offensive line depth NU has accumulated over the past few classes, the Wildcats can set their offense up with stability for the seasons to come.