To kick off a summer of football at Inside NU, we are counting down Northwestern's Top 10 Most Important Players in 2015. We've put our heads together as a staff, used the power of democracy, and come up with a list that will undoubtedly cause plenty of disagreement.
We've chosen to loosely define the criteria for our list as the players "who will have the biggest impact on the overall outcome of the season." However, we recognize that that's still open to interpretation. For some, it could mean the value of a player over his replacement. It could just mean best player. It could mean players in crucial roles. It could mean players who have underperformed who need to step up.
One thing is certain though: no two lists will be the same. That's why for each player, we'll enlist two of our writers to debate the merits of the player in question.
At No. 8 we have a group of players that collectively constitute "Northwestern's starting right tackle": Blake Hance, Eric Olson and Tommy Doles. Michael Odom, one of our two new writers, and Josh Rosenblat discuss:
Michael Odom (Hance/Olson/Doles rank: 4): 2015 is the year of the (new) quarterback. All of the buzz is surrounding Trevor Siemian's replacement, but one thing we can say with certainty is that
Clayton Thorson whoever is under center come Sept. 5 will need a capable offensive line. Though Northwestern will return several starters, last season's unit surrendered 34 sacks, so positions are still up for grabs.
Perhaps the biggest question mark is at right tackle. We have a hunch Geoff Mogus will slide from left guard to left tackle to replace Paul Jorgenson — something we saw a fair amount of during spring ball. If that happens, the right tackle position is likely Eric Olson's to lose. Olson started nine games at right tackle before sitting out the Wildcats' season-ending loss to Illinois due to injury. His position is not set in stone, however, as redshirt freshman Blake Hance is on his tail. The 6-foot-5, 275-pound Illinois native was a receiving tight end in high school, and his athleticism hasn't gone unnoticed by the coaching staff. Redshirt freshman Tommy Doles -- who is poised to step in at left tackle should Mogus remain at guard -- may also see time at right tackle.
Whoever emerges as the starting right tackle after this reshuffle will be expected to lead Justin Jackson to an All-Big Ten season and protect a new starting quarterback. Olson or Hance or Doles could make or break the offense this year.
Josh Rosenblat (Hance/Olson/Doles rank: NR): There's no doubt that the right tackle position is important. But, in my opinion, the position won't "make or break the offense this year," nor will they "lead Justin Jackson to an All-Big Ten season." It will be players such as Thorson and Jackson, Christian Jones and Dan Vitale, Miles Shuler and Auston Anderson, Cam Dickerson and Solomon Vault that will make or break the offense. For Northwestern, the issue has seemed to be the lack of playmaking and the inability to get players out in space where they can be most effective in one-on-one matchups. For me, ranking the players outside the top-10 was more about the perceived importance of offensive "weapons" than the offensive line.
Michael Odom: All of the players you named are important, but with the exception of Clayton Thorson, we already have an idea of what Northwestern will get out of all of those guys. We already know a healthy Christian Jones is the team's best wideout. We know Jackson is the engine of this offense. We know Dan Vitale will be a versatile receiving threat; and we know Shuler, Anderson and Vault are quick guys who can make plays out in space.
What we do not know is whether our right tackle — who will be Justin Jackson's best friend in what must be an effective rushing attack — will get the job done. We have never seen Hance or Doles on the field, and chances are at least one of them will play significant snaps this season. Health is a concern with Olson, and last year he was just a serviceable tackle. Serviceable is not going to cut it with a rookie quarterback. It does not matter what weapons surround Thorson if he has a defensive end in his face whenever he drops back. Conversely, good offensive line play means: 1) Jackson will wear down defenses and 2) Thorson and all those weapons you named will have a chance to thrive. Whether it's Olson, Hance or Doles, the right tackle needs to perform.
Josh Rosenblat: For years, it seems, Northwestern's offensive linemen have been "serviceable." And I think that's what we have come to expect from them. I don't think that's changing, whether Olson, Hance, Doles or some combination takes snaps at right tackle. Due to the position's average play over the years, right tackle has been basically held constant as far as quality goes. And last season, the line played a role (call it small or large, whatever it may be) in Jackson's unbelievable season. To me, it doesn't seem like there's a reason why this group carries any notable importance. Northwestern's success doesn't seem to hinge on the improvement or regression of this group. Rather, it will hinge on the playmakers.
Basically, if the group surprises and performs well above their expected output this season, I don't think that will make Northwestern that much better. The success will more so still rely on the quarterback's ability to get the ball to playmakers with extended time, or Jackson's and Anderson's abilities to make defenders miss, or Jones's, Vitale's and Dickerson's ability to make tough catches in coverage.
Michael Odom: 4 | Henry Bushnell: 5 | Ben Goren: 6 | Jason Dorow: 6 | Zach Pereles: 8 | Josh Burton: 8 | Josh Rosenblat: NR | Kevin Dukovic: NR | Ian McCafferty: NR
Where would you have [Starting Right Tackle] on your list? And who do you think it'll be?