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Northwestern's defensive end rotation gaining clarity

EVANSTON, Ill. -- When Ifeadi Odenigbo committed to Northwestern in January 2012, it was naturally assumed he would burn his redshirt and play as a true freshman. The offer list Odenigbo spurned comprised a veritable who's who of BCS heavyweights; Ohio State, Alabama, Notre Dame and USC are but a few of the schools he rejected to join the Wildcats. He was one of the most highly-rated recruits Northwestern had ever landed, and despite his underdeveloped physique, the sheer athleticism and raw power he possessed seemed too tantalizing to relegate to the sidelines for a season.

After playing in the Vanderbilt game on Sept. 8, Odenigbo suffered a season-ending shoulder injury and redshirted. Another true freshman, Dean Lowry, developed into the instant-impact pass rusher everyone thought Odenigbo would be.

One year later, Odenigbo is ready to put his disappointing first year behind him and become a major factor in Northwestern’s pass rush.

Over the past 12 months, Odenigbo has developed physically and mentally. He arrived as a raw, 205-pound pass rusher, but with the help of defensive line coach Marty Long, as well as veterans such as Tyler Scott, Odenigbo drilled himself in the intricacies of pass-rushing – from hand work to scheme nuance and everything in between. Thanks to a rigorous weight-room regimen and a hefty diet, Odenigbo is now an imposing 6-3, 245 pounds, with plenty of pass-rushing intuition to boot. The raw label should be removed in short order.

“When I got here, it was kind of a culture shock, going from high school to college,” Odenigbo said after practice Wednesday. “When I first got here, a lot of people were saying that I was raw or that I was using just pure athleticism. Coach Long has really coached me up on fundamentals.”

The defensive end rotation is not completely settled yet, according to Long. Odenigbo and Deonte Gibson, players expected to be used mostly on obvious passing downs, will be part of the every-down rotation. But the battle for the second defensive end spot does appear to have a winner: Dean Lowry. Long clarified the situation Wednesday.

“Tyler Scott is on the field first, and Dean,” he said, after discussing the strengths and weaknesses of Odenigbo and Gibson.

Between the 2012 season, spring practice and training camp, Lowry and Scott have shown the most versatility – namely, the ability to play on every down. While Long contends Gibson and Odenigbo will need to be able to play against the run, he painted a picture of a defensive line rotation with a well-defined delegation of roles, albeit undetermined.

“Some guys will be third down guys, other guys won’t,” he said. “But that hasn’t been totally determined yet.”

Sometime next week, Long says, he will have a better idea of who those “third-down guys” are. My best guess: Odenigbo and Gibson will be used heavily on passing downs, while Scott and Lowry will play every down.

Defensive end is one of Northwestern’s deepest positions. Scott, Lowry, Gibson and Odenigbo are skilled pass rushers that can be productive against quality Big Ten opposition – even if, despite Long’s assertions to the contrary, the latter two seem like better fits as third-down specialists.

There remains some uncertainty hovering over the defensive end two-deep. Next week’s depth chart reveal should answer any lingering questions.