What will Northwestern’s linebacking corps look like this season without Damien Proby? I attempted to answer that very question in our spring preview series. But based on early reports out of camp, it seems I did not account for one very real possibility. Former senior safety (and former wide receiver) Jimmy Hall has been lining up with the first-team linebacking unit.
"At two days in, without having to tackle anybody or hit anybody, he's done a nice job," Northwestern coach Fitzgerald said Thursday of Hall, according to WildcatReport.com
Hall started two games at safety last season and played well in NU’s nickel package. The Wildcats’ two safety spots are pretty much locked up; Ibraheim Campbell and Traveon Henry will, almost assuredly, be the starters. So if Fitzgerald and the coaching staff believe Hall deserves to start, it makes sense they’d move him to outside linebacker.
Besides Chi-Chi Ariguzo, NU doesn’t have any guys at that position who won’t have to fight for playing time (yes, everyone technically has to fight for playing time, and you won’t hear Fitzgerald say otherwise, but you get my point). Allowing that Hall tops the depth chart right now, Drew Smith, Anthony Walker, Joseph Jones and Brett Walsh are backup options.
At this point, you’re probably saying something along the lines of, ‘But wait, spring practice isn’t even halfway over yet!’ This is true. As Fitzgerald noted above, Hall has done a nice job “without having to tackle anybody or hit anybody.” Hall will need to earn his starting spot in preseason practice. But he does seem to have the athleticism, instincts and big-hitting ability – he crunched Kyle Prater over the middle at a spring practice two years ago – to excel at the position.
If Hall does end up playing linebacker, it will be interesting to see who plays in NU’s nickel package. Nick VanHoose and Matt Harris seem the frontrunners to earn the two starting cornerback spots – though Daniel Jones, who is not participating in spring practice while he rehabilitates the knee he injured in the season opener at Cal, should not be discounted. That means Dwight White, Jones and potentially Parrker Westphal could get a lot of action when NU employs DB-heavy sets.
It’s important to reiterate that there is a long way to go before the season begins. The fact Hall is lining up with the 1s at linebacker is interesting, though.