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In his attempt to take over for Tyler Scott, Dean Lowry will lead a deep and athletic front four.

John Gress

It's been an off season full of offensive story lines for Northwestern: How will Trevor Siemian fair as the lone starting quarterback? Will Kyle Prater have an impact this season? Who will replace Venric Mark and Christian Jones? How effective can freshmen running backs Justin Jackson and Solomon Vault be?

But quietly, Northwestern has built one of the best defenses in the Big Ten with talented, athletic players at all three levels and up front, Dean Lowry leads the charge.

As just a true sophomore, Lowry had a breakout season for Northwestern in 2013. In nine starts, Lowry was tied for second on the team with seven tackles for loss and third on the team with 4.5 sacks. He forced two fumbles and recovered one. He also knocked down three passes, intercepted two and returned one for a touchdown.

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With Tyler Scott, an accomplished sack master, trying to earn a spot on an NFL roster, Lowry will be looked at to not only attack opposing quarterbacks, but to stop the run as well.

"He's always had really good [fundamentals] and technique, but now he's playing with a motor and tenacity," Fitzgerald said of Lowry.

Lowry's versatility will allow Northwestern to again use the speed rush package on defense that was so effective last season. On passing situations, Northwestern often turned to a four defensive end front with Scott, Deonte Gibson, Ifeadi Odenigbo and Lowry. With Lowry's ability to move inside on passing downs, it could open the door for freshman end Xavier Washington to make an impact as a pass rusher.

There's really not a major fault in Lowry's game. He's skilled enough to get by offensive tackles, strong enough to battle through run blocks and double teams and smart enough to know when to stop pursuing the quarterback and use his long frame to disrupt passing lanes. While his sophomore season was considered a breakout year, Lowry could really rise in the ranks of the Big Ten's top defensive lineman in 2014.