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Northwestern football season in review: Offensive line

The group was inconsistent but ended on a high note and has a lot of young talent.

NCAA FOOTBALL: DEC 28 Pinstripe Bowl - Pitt v Northwestern Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With the season in the rearview mirror, it’s time to assess how Northwestern’s individuals performed this season. All classes are according to the 2016 season. We move to the guys up front, a group that struggled at times but paved the way for a huge performance from Justin Jackson to end the year.

LT Blake Hance (sophomore): C-

Hance really struggled — especially early in the season — with smaller, quicker pass rushers. The sophomore got better as the season went on and started every game, but it was a step back from last year, when he was a Big Ten All-Freshman team member.

LG Connor Mahoney (senior): C+

Mahoney, a team captain, made eight starts in 2016 but once he got hurt, it was mainly J.B. Butler’s job, which speaks to both Butler’s and Mahoney’s performances.

LG J.B. Butler (sophomore): B+

Butler got his first career start in Spartan Stadium and performed admirably against Michigan State star Malik McDowell. He got the start in the bowl game over Mahoney, who by that point was healthy, and the redshirt sophomore walk-on was an encouraging bright spot of this offensive line.

C Brad North (junior): C+

North stayed healthy all year and had his ups and downs, much like his fellow linemen. He really struggled against Minnesota but will be back next year and should slot in as a starter again. His snapping was vastly improved this year.

RG Tommy Doles (sophomore): B-

Doles and Butler were the team’s two best linemen. Doles has great size and was able to hold his own most of the time. He needs to continue to get stronger, but he’s another young performer who will be back and better next year. He also has the versatility to play guard and tackle.

RT Eric Olson (senior): C

Olson wasn’t anything special at tackle and struggled in the bowl game in pass protection. Like his fellow tackle Hance, he too had trouble with the quicker pass-rushing type but also threw a good block in Justin Jackson’s 68-yard scamper in the bowl. This is the only starter Northwestern will have to replace.

Overall grade: C-

A slightly below-average grade for a below average, very inconsistent unit.