Over the next couple weeks, InsideNU will reveal its rankings of the most important players on Northwestern’s football team. Past production, position and potential, among other criteria, were taken into account. We only ask one thing from you: If there’s one player you believe is pegged too high or low, reserve your venom until after reading the explanation. At No. 2, we have a tie: the defensive tackle duo of Chance Carter and Sean McEvilly.
Amid the many, many things that went wrong for the Northwestern football team in 2013, injuries sat near the top of the list. The defensive line fell victim to the injury plague, most notably concerning starting defensive tackle Sean McEvilly. The rising redshirt senior went down just three games into the season and when he tried to return four games later, he made it through only a game and a half before being shut down for the rest of the year. In the five games in which he did participate, he tallied nine tackles, including two for a loss. Despite missing seven games plus spring camp due to the foot injury and subsequent surgery, he will undoubtedly regain his starting spot in 2014.
The bigger question mark is Chance Carter, who was curiously lined up with the second string during spring training. He did miss the first nine workouts of spring because of an injury, which might explain the temporary demotion. Nonetheless, his stats from the last two seasons indicate that he will get the starting nod in the end. He started every game last season and racked up 34 tackles — at least one every game — plus two sacks. He also played in every game in 2012, albeit as a backup, but still registered 15 tackles.
To say the least, the Wildcats had an inconsistent year on defense. There were times when the unit carried the team (four interceptions returned for touchdowns, including two against Maine), but the defense was also maddeningly unpredictable, and fairly susceptible to big plays, allowing 12 rushing plays of 20 or more yards. That was good for 25th in the country last season, but only 6th in the Big Ten. Overall, they gave up more than 167 rushing yards per game, which put them at 68th in the country.
Finding more consistency will start with the defensive line. Defensive tackle is arguably the most important position on defense. They are the first line of defense and they have the first chance to affect the direction of the play. Assuming McEvilly comes back healthy and Carter gets the starting nod, it will be first and foremost up to them to get more pressure on opposing quarterbacks, or at least block off lanes so the linebackers behind them can. The Cats had only 27 sacks last year — 50th in the nation.
McEvilly has shown that he has the ability — he made 20 tackles in 2012 and was on pace for a few more in 2013 despite the foot injury. And Carter has had two predominantly productive years in a row. They have the experience and the talent, and NU desperately needs them to bring those together if they Cats are going to finally shed the Cardiac Cats moniker in 2014.