The InsideNU spring guide is back as we get set for Northwestern’s spring football practice. We got a little behind with union stuff, but we'll continue to release the position guides through the first week of spring practice. Practice starts today, February 26, and runs through the open practice on April 12, with a break for finals and the school’s regularly scheduled spring break. We’ll run through each position unit to let you know what to watch once practice begins.
Returning starters: OT Jack Konopka (Sr.), OT Paul Jorgensen (Sr.), OG Geoff Mogus (Jr.), OG Matt Frazier (Jr.), C Brandon Vitabile (Sr.)
Others returning: OT Shane Mertz (Jr.), OT Eric Olson (So.), OG Hayden Baker (Sr.), OG Adam DePietro (So.), OG Ian Park (So.), OT Kenton Playko (So.), OT Sam Coverdale (RS Fr.), OT Graham Bullmore (RS Fr.), OG Zack Guritz (RS Fr.), OG Blake King (RS Fr.), OG Brad North (RS Fr.)
Incoming recruits: OT Tommy Doles
Biggest spring question: Can this group put together a consistent season?
If there was ever a season for Northwestern to have a really good offensive line, it's this one. Every starter returns — heck, you could probably count six of them as returning starters — and three of them are seniors. If you count last year as the transition/learning season, this is the one when everything should come together.
Last year, we were probably more optimistic about the offensive line than we should have been. Most people saw it as a weakness, given the young guards and the departures of Brian Mulroe and Pat Ward, but we saw the depth and young talent on the unit. Eventually, the line started to prove us right, but early in the season, the group struggled with inconsistency.
The 2012 line was set up perfectly for the offense. It had a strong interior and veteran players that excelled at zone blocking, helping lead the Wildcats' run game. In 2013, with entirely new guards, the run blocking wasn't what it was in 2012, and the pass protection also struggled. By midseason, the group started to improve, but it still had some rough games.
Now, everyone comes back, and with a year together, the blocking in early 2014 should be much better than it was in early 2013. This offense figures to be a bit more pass-based than last season, but a lot remains the same. In order for NU's offense to get better, the line must make major improvements. This year, with everyone coming back, there are no excuses for inconsistent play.
The most interesting battle will be at guard. Perhaps there's a chance for Shane Mertz to battle for a starting job at tackle, but guard is the biggest mishmash of all.
Geoff Mogus has established himself as the starter at one of the guard spots, but the other spot is still wide open. Ian Park got the start at the beginning of the season, but was eventually replaced by Matt Frazier. Adam DePietro will also be in the mix for the starting spot. As we always say, position battles aren't won in the spring, but this will be an interesting battle to watch through the fall.
Our best guess at the depth chart
OT - Jack Konopka, Shane Mertz
OG - Geoff Mogus, Adam DePietro
C - Brandon Vitabile, Hayden Baker
OG - Matt Frazier, Ian Park
OT - Paul Jorgensen, Eric Olson