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One Less Day Til Football: Linebackers

Purple court can't take up all our time. After all, it's almost time for that other sport what without the purple field.

Days left til football: 29. (Every year, when I do this countdown, I vow I'm going to figure out how to do it so that it gets to "1" on the Friday the day before NU's first game, and I'm pretty convinced that every single time I do it wrong. Math isn't my forte. All this makes my head hurt.

Who dun it?: Two seniors and a junior did the vast majority of Northwestern's work at linebacker: Quentin Davie had one spot, Nate Williams had the middle, while Bryce McNaul held down the other side. I heaped high praise on this unit in last year's post, but it was not exactly a banner year for the linebackers: it was a year of overcommitting and being out of position to make tackles, letting the linebacker's job of bringing down a running back to fall too often to the secondary. The unit's ballhawking mentality left them vulnerable to cutbacks. with the loss of injury to key backup Roderick Goodlow and the continued non-emergence of Ben Johnson (who started out the year listed as a starter but found himself off the depth chart by the end of it), the crew in the middle didn't have the depth I imagined last year, and without any all-conference type players on the squad, not much great happened.

Who's gone?: Williams and Davie have moved on, and Davie is now a Detroit Lion. Davie's size and speed made him an intriguing athlete while Williams is one of the few players on NU's defense the past two years who I don't associate with missed tackles. Both of these guys have been producing at the LB spot since my freshman year and have combined to start all but one (Syracuse, 2009) game in the past two years, so, it's pretty disconcerting to see a unit that had trouble in 2010 coming back in 2011 with less on the plate.

Linebacker-related dance crazy of Summer 2010: Step 1: Take the name "Chi Chi Ariguzo".

Step 2: Place the name into the chorus of the song "Teach Me How To Dougie". It should sound like "Chi Chi Ariguzo Chi Chi-Chi Chi Ariguzo." Only the "Chi Chi" part rhymes, but "Ariguzo" has the right number of syllables.

Step 3: Dougie.

Who's got next?: A bevy of backups have filed their way in and out of the linebacker spot over the past few years, and whether the guys we had were really good or these guys couldn't make a move on the depth chart due to their own faults, we don't know. What we do know is that they're there now. The aforementioned Johnson, who has always really impressed me with his speed but never really tackled anybody, will start at strongside, David Nwabuisi, who quite frankly, I have nothing bad to say about, is in the middle, and McNaul returns to his spot at the other side. I foresee large cameo appearances from Damien Proby, who passed Johnson on the depth chart last year and has been heralded as a good athlete, but also started against Illinois last year in Bryce McNaul's absence and well you remember what happened against Illinois not talking about it not talking about it not talking about it. Goodlow should be back and contribute, other backups on the depth chart never to have seen significant time are Tim Riley (behind McNaul), and Collin Ellis and the aforementioned catchy Ariguzo (fighting for a spot behind Ben Johnson).

Will they be good?: ESPN has them as the worst linebacker unit in the Big Ten, and while I normally cast aside preseason unit rankings like so many things written in July to fill time, Rittenberg's assessment seems accurate enough that they'll have to prove him wrong rather than the other way around.

Rodger's three wishes:

1. Stop making me look stupid: I have sung the praises of three players who look to see playing time this year: Johnson, Nwabuisi, and Proby. (Although it looks like I'm hating on Ben Johnson, he's fast and all he needs to do is learn how to use that to tackle people that are smaller than him.) All three have boundless athleticism and none of them have ever seen playing time significant enough to justify my repeated talk of them. Now they'll either have opportunities to show how smart I am or not.

2. Tackles: Last year it was the fact that nobody could make a tackle, this year, nobody was in position to make a tackle. I sense a lot of speed in this unit between Johnson and Nwabuisi: that means they need to chill out and let the play come to them instead of freaking out and leaving themselves in no-man's land after a cutback. Coach Hankwitz turned NU from a "react" team to an "attack" team, I obviously have no idea what I'm talking about, but maybe a little reacting could do these guys good.

3. No job should be safe: I was kind of surprised for a unit as in flux as the linebacker corps with as many talented backups to have three guys listed as uncontested starters out of spring ball. I don't see any linebackers as proven, and it's up to their 2011 campaigns to secure those jobs. Backups should get a large percentage of snaps in these units - as noted, NU has the horses in the stable and should let them see the field.