CHICAGO -- There aren’t a lot of glaring weaknesses on Northwestern’s roster. With eight starters returning on offense, and seven on defense, most of the 10-win team you saw walk off EverBank field on New Year’s Day with Gator Bowl trophy in tow returns intact, and the Wildcats are expected to build off last season’s success with much the same personnel group. The tentative preseason depth chart is an encouraging picture.
It is also not without flaws. There are smaller questions regarding various statistical lowlights from last season, specific positions and whether the players filling them can alleviate those questions. Like any football roster, a few areas stick out more than others. Defensive tackle is one spot in which Northwestern could use some more game-tested depth; Sean McEvily, Will Hampton and Chance Carter are the only players with first-team DT playing time on their resumes. All three have proven themselves capably in game situations, and in 2013, their services will be crucial to sustaining the improved rush defense Northwestern showcased in 2012.
An injury to one or multiple players could force the Wildcats to slot a previously unused player into a starting job. Where this situation ranks on the preseason panic meter, your mileage may vary; but NU does need to find some viable DT reserve options. I sat down with Tyler Scott at Big Ten media days to hear his interpretation of the state of NU’s defensive tackle position, and asked him to discuss some of the players who could provide depth behind McEvily, Carter and Hampton this season.
- on sophomore Max Chapman: “Max is a really hard worker, he’s a strong kid, he blows everybody out of the water when it comes to lifting. He’s a really hard worker and he’s bounced around between playing end and tackle. Kind of like a hybrid. It will be interesting to see where he falls when it comes to camp, playing inside or outside.”
-on sophomore C.J. Robbins: “C.J. Robbins played tackle pretty much all through spring ball, and I think we were down on numbers on ends or something happened, and we bumped C.J. out and he played well, so having another body out there is always a good thing. But I think you’ll see him at both spots.”
- on redshirt freshman Connor Mahoney: “Connor made some strides in spring ball. He’s also a really strong kid. If he picks up the scheme a little better in the offseason, it will be interesting. We’ve got a lot of depth and a lot of people that can play at a lot of different positions, which should be interesting.”
- Another player expected to contribute this season is Greg Kuhar, a 6-foot-3, 275-pound redshirt freshman who flashed good power and a relentless motor at the point of attack during spring practice, and should challenge Robbins, Mahoney, and Chapman (and potentially freshman Tyler Lancaster) for backup snaps. "Greg is coming along."
- on the defensive tackle position: “I wouldn’t say there’s a need for depth at tackle. We have the numbers, we just need people to pick things up a little quicker and really stay focused through camp and really pick up our schemes and get ready for the season. Because really, the athleticism we have at our tackle position will really help us if everyone really comes through and works hard.”
None of these comments are meant to be interpreted as anything close to definitive judgments of a player’s depth chart prospects. Preseason camp, which begins in early August, will help clarify relative positional specifics. Scott’s words merely offer a brief synopsis of a few player’s offseason progress along with a general assessment of the defensive tackle position group.