Spring practice has now finished up for Northwestern and over the past couple of months we've been able to learn about how each position group is shaping up for the fall. Following the "spring game" we will be posting group reviews detailing "The Good," "The Bad" and "The Biggest Question" facing each group. We start first with the defensive line.
Following the "spring game," Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald was pretty vague when responding to questions about starters. But he did list off some players he said would most likely start come fall camp. Among that group were defensive ends Deonte Gibson and Dean Lowry, both seniors. It's encouraging to see that both vets came through workouts healthy, and their versatility will continue to be a major plus for the Wildcats.
Backing them up on the outside is the talented duo of junior Ifeadi Odenigbo and sophomore Xavier Washington. Both have shown signs of being able to put their talent together on the field but, as they did last year, their moments could come sporadically, as they are slated to play in supporting roles in 2015.
While the ends of Northwestern's defensive front may be strong, its center pieces are still progressing. Steeped with experience, the four players competing for time at defensive tackle are all upperclassmen but none of them have really taken hold of a starting job. C.J. Robbins seems to be the most consistent player, followed by Greg Kuhar. Right now, those two players look to be slightly ahead of both Sean McEvilly and Max Chapman. We could even end up seeing Gibson and/or Lowry move inside in certain situations with a three or four defensive end front, which has been hit-or-miss in the past.
The Biggest Question
When will "talent" meet results?
There's no question Northwestern's defensive ends have talent, but it's about time that their potential translates into results on the field. Lowry, for example, looked poised for a break out year in 2014 as he was expected to lead the front four following the departure of Tyler Scott. But he turned in a somewhat pedestrian four sacks. Sure, without Scott, it's true that Lowry was often the focus of opposing offensive lines and the victim of double teams, but that should have opened up opportunities for guys like Gibson and Odengibo.
Gibson, another talented end, was supposed to increase his production with more snaps. But his tackles, tackles for loss and sacks all fell from 2013 to 2014. After a monster redshirt freshman season from Odenigbo, when he recorded 5.5 sacks in 2013, that mark fell to 3 last season. All of these guys, including Washington, have immense talent, but it's time for Northwestern to begin to capitalize on it instead of waiting for it to magically show up.