Over the next few weeks, Inside NU will be releasing its 2015 Northwestern Football Summer Guide, a season preview that will look at each positional unit, address the biggest storylines, and answer the most pressing questions that face the Wildcats this fall.
First up, we have our position previews, which serve as a primer for how things could shake out for each group ahead of fall camp in August. We'll have special teams tomorrow, but our final true position group is the defensive backs:
Returning Starters (Career Starts): CB Nick VanHoose (32) (Sr.), S Traveon Henry (20) (Sr.), CB Matthew Harris (17) (Jr.), S Godwin Igwebuike (5) (So.)
Key Losses: S Ibraheim Campbell
Other Returning Players: S Terrance Brown (Jr.), CB Troy Sheppard (Jr.), S Kyle Queiro (So.), CB Marcus McShepard (So.), CB Keith Watkins II (So.), CB Parrker Westphal (Rs Fr.), S Tommy Odell (So.), S Jared McGee (Rs Fr.)
Incoming Freshman: S Steven Reese, CB Alonzo Mayo, S Trae Williams, CB Montre Hartage, DB Jake Murray
Last year, Northwestern's secondary, anchored by Matt Harris, Nick VanHoose and Ibraheim Campbell, was surprisingly consistent. Despite a weak pass rush (17 sacks all season), the Wildcats allowed no more than 300 yards through the air in any game. In 2015, if the pass rush improves, this unit could be the best it's been in years. Returning four starters doesn't hurt either. Of course, it will be hard to replace Campbell, a fourth-round pick of the Cleveland Browns, but the 2015 Wildcats have a solid core to build around heading into the season.
VanHoose is a workhorse for this team. He's not flashy, but he's so reliable. The senior finished second in the Big Ten with 12 pass deflections in 2014, and was named to the All-Conference second team. He even blocked three kicks, most notably against Notre Dame, when he blocked a PAT and ran it back for two points.
In the upset against Wisconsin, a game in which Godwin Igwebuike got most of the praise because of his three interceptions, VanHoose led the team with 9 tackles. At this point in his career, we pretty much know what we're going to get from VanHoose, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. He's still arguably the team's best defender and if he can lock down one side of the field, it will go a long way to improving the entire defense this year. Pairing him up with Harris gives the secondary a lot of experience on the outside, and will help the younger players like Godwin Igwebuike and the backup corners adapt at a faster pace.
Is Godwin Igwebuike ready to replace Ibraheim Campbell?
The most significant offseason development for the secondary was the loss of the safety Ibraheim Campbell. In his four years at Northwestern, Campbell amassed 316 tackles, 24 pass breakups and 11 interceptions. He was a mainstay on defense, making 45 starts at safety and was even co-captain of the team last year. That's a pretty big hole to fill, but that's what Godwin Igwebuike will have to try and do.
The Ohio native had his coming out party last year against Wisconsin, recording eight tackles and three interceptions, including the one above. He became a well-known name on the team almost overnight, and went on to play reasonably well the rest of the year. But he was still learning on the job, and for every highlight reel play, there was also a missed assignment. Igwebuike is a legitimate talent; it'll just be a question of consistency in his sophomore season. And with a full offseason as the starter under his belt, there's no reason he can't turn into the defense's top playmaker.
Projected Depth Chart
|1st String||Nick VanHoose||Traveon Henry||Godwin Igwebuike||Matthew Harris||Keith Watkins|
|2nd String||Parrker Westphal||Kyle Queiro||Terrance Brown||Marcus McShepard||Parrker Westphal|
The four starters are essentially set in stone. Rumblings of Traveon Henry moving to linebacker and making way for Kyle Queiro have died down. But the backups are very fluid. Parrker Westphal is finally healthy, and is a wildcard. Keith Watkins looked set for a good season in the slot last year before injuries derailed his campaign. With those two, plus Marcus McShepard and Kyle Queiro, there is both depth and flexibility behind the starters.