There has been nonstop gossip about Northwestern’s offensive line, and rightfully so as it has been an exciting battle in which all of the competitors have really stepped up their games. However, it’s the five guys across the line that coach Pat Fitzgerald was praising after Saturday’s scrimmage at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside.
“We wanted to push (the defensive line) a little bit from the standpoint that we practice really well,” Fitzgerald said, “but I believe that that’s the hardest position to play in football and we wanted to make it a little challenging on those guys going through the weekend. I thought they responded really well. They played really well today.”
Two spots are set with two returning starts, senior Tyler Scott at defensive end and junior Sean McEvilly at defensive tackle. Junior Chance Carter is competing with senior Will Hampton for the other defensive tackle spot, while sophomores Dean Lowry and Deonte Gibson are fighting for the defensive end spot. Saturday was the first time that they really got to show their power on the line.
“It was definitely more intense,” Lowry said. “A lot of times, we don’t go live in practice. Today we were full speed, just out there hitting people. It’s fun to just go out there and play football, and it’s fun to get better.”
The adrenaline from going full speed suited Lowry well, as Fitzgerald called it his best day of camp so far. Fitzgerald specifically mentioned Lowry, Carter, Hampton, and redshirt freshman Ifeadi Odenigbo as players who stepped up and stood out at the scrimmage.
“I really liked the way they performed,” he said. “Dean’s a young guy with a lot of experience and we think we’ve got a pretty good wave up there of guys who can play and we think he’s going to play some good football for us this year.”
Fitzgerald, a former linebacker, said he has always admired the difficulty of playing on the defensive line.
“Not only do you have to take on 300 or 600 pounds of people but then you have to disengage and run to the ball and try to make a play,” he said. “The o-line just kind of waddles. We yell at them to cover and (offensive line coach Adam Cushing) is all over them but they still just waddle. D-line’s got to get to the ball after getting their lips knocked off like that. I’ve always felt that way. I’ve got a little soft spot in my heart for the defensive line, maybe because they made me what I was as a player but that group, to me, is really special.”
While he acknowledges the difficulty of their job, that doesn’t mean he’ll go any easier on them in practice. If anything, he wants to make it more difficult in practice so they will be prepared come game time. Today, they all rose to the challenge and made his decision to choose starters that much harder.
“I wanted to make it a little more realistic for them,” he said. “I thought they handled it really well.”