The latest part of our 2016 Summer Guide is position previews. For each position, we'll outline who's returning, who's gone and what the big question facing the unit is before finishing up with our projected depth chart for each position.
We now switch to the safeties, which was the core of a fantastic Northwestern pass defense last season.
Returning starters (career starts): Godwin Igwebuike (Jr.) (18)
Key losses: Traveon Henry, Terrance Brown
Other returning contributors: Kyle Queiro (Jr.), Tommy Odell (Jr.), Parrker Westphal (So.), Jared McGee (So.)
Redshirt freshmen: Jacob Murray
Incoming freshmen: Travis Whillock
Northwestern will have to adjust to life without Traveon Henry, who was third on the team in tackles last season and also picked up two interceptions. Kyle Queiro should step up as his replacement, but the junior was injured for much of last season. Queiro looked solid in his limited appearances last year and as a redshirt freshman in 2014, but his consistency and health will be something to watch next year. Godwin Igwebuike was one of Northwestern's best players last season and will comfortably slot in as the top safety.
Behind them, Tommy Odell and Parrker Westphal are two names to look out for. Westphal has had a difficult time staying healthy after his much-heralded recruitment, and the move to safety from cornerback appears to be his last shot at becoming a contributor on this team. Odell only saw playing time in two games as a redshirt sophomore and has not seen much playing time, but he may be forced into a backup role given Northwestern's decision to move Steven Reese to wide receiver.
This analysis will be very straightforward. Teams need two solid safeties to build a good pass defense, and Northwestern had that last year with Henry and Igwebuike. Queiro is the heir apparent, but he must become at least 80 percent of the player Henry was in order to retain Northwestern's iron-clad pass coverage. Henry and Igwebuike were both very good at covering whenever Nick VanHoose and Matt Harris slipped up. Both players made receivers and running backs fear getting caught in the open field, as Henry and Igwebuike lit up anyone in the vicinity. Igwebuike is a known quantity, but Quiero will have to duplicate Henry's skills in order for the pass defense to hold up.
Where is the depth?
Last year, Northwestern had so much depth at defensive back that it decided to move two of its defensive backs to wide receiver by the end of the season. This year, that depth has yet to replenish itself. Jared McGee, Tommy Odell and Jacob Murray are complete unknowns. Parrker Westphal's string of injuries have hurt his progress, so it might be unwise to expect him to provide depth immediately at his new position. But that's what the summer is for: to prove you can play at this level, even if you're not a starter. We'll have a clearer picture after Kenosha, but for now, the depth remains suspect.
|1st string||2nd string|
|Safety||Kyle Quiero||Jake Murray|
|Safety||Godwin Igwebuike||Jared McGee|
The starters are pretty straightforward, and if they stay healthy, Northwestern has one of the better backlines in all of college football. But behind them, there are questions. Because of that, the depth chart remains relatively unchanged from spring.