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Northwestern lineman Ben Oxley moving to offensive line ahead of 2016 season

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EVANSTON — Northwestern sophomore lineman Ben Oxley, a defensive tackle during his first two years as a Wildcat, is making the transition over to the offensive side of the ball. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald confirmed the position switch Tuesday.

"Big, long, athletic guy," Fitzgerald said of Oxley. "Did a lot of good things in bowl practice."

Northwestern is also moving three players to wide receiver: Solomon Vault, Marcus McShepard and Steven Reese.

Oxley played offensive tackle in high school, and was seen by some as an offensive lineman at the next level. He originally elected to play defensive tackle at Northwestern, but appeared in just five games as a redshirt freshman in 2015, making just three total tackles.

Even after a strong 2015 offseason, Oxley failed to crack a deep defensive tackle rotation that featured C.J. Robbins, Tyler Lancaster, Max Chapman, Jordan Thompson and Greg Kuhar. Of those five, only Chapman has exhausted his eligibility.

On the other hand, the offensive line is in need of depth and talent. Multiple starting spots seem to be up for grabs heading into spring practice. Eric Olson and Blake Hance figure to start at right and left tackle respectively, but Fitzgerald said he expects Oxley to push Olson and Hance for starting spots.

Last year at this time, Northwestern moved Connor Mahoney, then a reserve defensive tackle, over to the offensive line. Mahoney made five starts at left guard, but was often used in a utility role, sometimes as a sixth offensive lineman in tackle-eligible packages.

Northwestern opened spring practice Tuesday, and will have eight more practices prior to a two-week break for exams and the university's spring break. The Wildcats then return to the field for six more practices/scrimmages between March 29 and April 9.