Northwestern picked up yet another verbal commitment this week, this time from offensive tackle Blake Hance. Hance, a three-star recruit and native of Jacksonville, Ill., received his NU offer just two days ago. Yesterday, he said he was going to keep his options open, but he committed via Twitter today. For more, check out our 2014 football recruiting board.
School: Jacksonville (IL)
Other offers: Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Mississippi State, Missouri, Nebraska, NC State, Northern Illinois, Purdue, Vanderbilt, Western Michigan, Wyoming
Profiles: Scout, Rivals, ESPN
(Also See: Quotes from Hance on his commitment and wait for an offer)
What's The Hype?
Hance is a three-star prospect, but he had some great offers. Nebraska, Missouri, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt and Illinois were among the schools that had offered, some recruiting him as an offensive lineman and some recruiting him as a tight end. He will come into NU as an offensive tackle, and bring some pretty serious hype with him. Hance is NU's 10th verbal commitment for the class of 2014 and will likely push the Wildcats toward the top 10 nationally in the recruiting rankings — they were No. 15 before his commitment. However, the timing of his commitment says more than anything.
Just on the heels of Dareian Watkins, Auston Anderson and Justin Jackson committing to NU over some pretty impressive offers, Hance's commitment might be the most impressive. He was offered by the Wildcats just two days ago and has been recruited by the likes of Nebraska, Missouri and Illinois — the latter two very heavily. Yesterday, Hance told InsideNU that he'd been "wanting (an NU offer) for a long time."So essentially, Hance was sitting on Nebraska and Missouri offers in hopes of getting a Northwestern offer. That's a complete 180 from what we're used to seeing.
At some point, the momentum has to end, right? It's commonly believed that NU is only going to take 15 players in this class, but the class is already two-thirds of the way full with some kids who have the Wildcats at the top of their lists — Noah Westerfield and Ladarius Wiley — still uncommitted. NU also has a chance with more highly-regarded recruits like Garrett Dickerson, Jalen Brown, Brandon Lee and Parrker Westphal. What already is shaping up to be the best class in NU history could be in the top 10 nationally if the Wildcats get one or two players in the latter group.
Where He Fits In
As we noted last week, Northwestern has recruited the offensive line very well in the past few years. Because of the depth they've built on the line, there wasn't the need for a huge offensive line class in 2014, but the two linemen that NU does have — Hance and Tommy Doles — are very solid players. It's tough to project playing time so far down the road, especially with offensive linemen, who need more time to develop than skill players. However, it's easy to see Hance being successful in the Wildcats' system.
NU is always going to try to establish the run, but the Wildcats haven't always had the players to do it. The ability to run the ball starts on the offensive line, and last year's line was very good at run blocking. Pat Fitzgerald is on record as saying NU wants athletic linemen, not ballooned up linemen who can't move. That makes sense, because in the Wildcats' system, players need to be able to move more than they ever have. NU employs a lot of zone blocking, especially with the increased use of the the zone read, and that essentially means offensive linemen need to be responsible for assignments on both the defensive line and linebackers. Tackles, in particular, must be ready to shift up to block linebackers after initially helping the guards with their assignments on the defensive line. Smart Football has a great article on the concept.
Hance fits the athletic lineman mold, and that's obvious in his roots as a tight end. In a way, he's comparable to Jack Konopka, who came in as an offensive lineman, switched to superback as a freshman, started at right tackle as a sophomore and should start at left tackle as a junior. If NU is to continue to run the ball with success in the future, they have to have a strong, athletic offensive line. Hance fits that vision well.