EVANSTON — If you’re looking for competition, keep an eye on the offensive line.
That unit will be the most contentious battle throughout camp and also one of the most important components to the Northwestern offense this coming season. The unit lost three starters to graduation, leaving only junior Brandon Vitabile at center and junior Jack Konopka at left tackle (a move from right) as the presumably set starters. The other three spots are up for grabs and coach Pat Fitzgerald did little to clear it up, nor does he plan to any time soon.
“You can ask me every day about the offensive line and I’m going to give you a really vague answer because I really don’t care,” Fitzgerald said. “I’ve got to watch the tape and we’ve got to make an analysis of where guys were at on a specific day based on what we were doing and more importantly how consistent were they over time and then we’ll put different combinations out there just to kind of see who’s jelling. You’re going to see a lot of different combinations.”
The line gave up only 16 sacks last season, a huge reason why the offense was able to try so many new things at the quarterback position and incorporate more of the option offense into the playbook. Finding some continuity on the line this year will be vital if the Wildcats intend to field an even more powerful offense, as many expect them to.
Sophomore Geoff Mogus appears to have the edge at left guard but sophomore Matt Frazier, who was injured and did not play during spring practices, and junior Hayden Baker will also compete for the spot. Frazier and Baker will also get looks at right guard along with redshirt freshman Adam DePietro, and redshirt freshman Ian Park — who could enter the season backing up Bradon Vitabile at center — should also be in the mix at both guard spots. Assuming Frazier’s injury from spring is no longer an issue, those four will battle for the two positions for at least the next two weeks.
But the biggest battle will be at right tackle, where sophomore Shane Mertz and junior Paul Jorgensen look to be dead even. This one may not be decided until just before week 1, and it may even fluctuate throughout the season. Jorgensen did not practice in spring due to injury but he appeared to be fully healthy on day one of fall practice. He said the close competition will ensure that each player is pushing himself to his full potential.
“The good thing is we’re competing on the field but we’re all good friends off the field and we’re helping each other out,” Jorgensen said. “Really, the thing about competing is we’re making each other better. We’re pushing each other and that’s making both of us better at the end of the day. We know at the end of the day we’re going to be the best we can because we’re getting pushed by the guy behind us and same with the guy in front of us.”