2019 may feel like a while away, but some patterns are already starting to form in Pat Fitzgerald’s recruiting strategy. Northwestern has already offered six offensive tackles and two guards in the class of 2019. The team only offered five offensive tackles in the entire recruiting process for the Class of 2018, indicating that perhaps the coaching staff sees offensive line improvement as a primary goal for 2019.
Northwestern hasn’t had the best offensive line play in the past few seasons. The position group has been very inconsistent over the past three or four seasons. Although the offensive resurgence in the middle of 2016 was impressive, the offensive line has still been dominated by teams like Michigan and Wisconsin over the past few years. Once again, we have little idea who the starting five will be against Nevada, let alone by the end of the season.
By 2019, current mainstays like Blake Hance and Tommy Doles will have graduated, and there aren’t too many surefire replacements lined up behind them. Redshirt freshman Gunnar Vogel could be the starting right tackle this season and has looked good in spring, but who knows how good he will be. Jared Thomas, Nik Urban, Cam Kolwich and Rashawn Slater should also be in the mix at that point, but we haven’t seen any of them in meaningful action. Wyatt Blake, Northwestern’s best offensive line recruit in years, will probably still be a redshirt freshman. After 2019, Northwestern’s going to need a lot of offensive line depth after only snagging two three-stars, Sam Gerak and Ethan Wiederkehr in the Class of 2017. Blake and Charles Schmidt could be ready, but I think the position group will still be quite young, unless someone redshirts a year due to injury.
Thus, it makes sense that Northwestern is going after some blue chip Illinois offensive line prospects in the Class of 2019. Offensive line recruitment is highly competitive, and Northwestern usually gets squeezed out by bigger programs. That hasn’t stopped Northwestern from offering Trevor Keegan and William Putnam, two four-star offensive linemen from Illinois. It’s a long ways away, but those two players could be the best players in the Illinois recruiting scene that season. It would be nice if Northwestern at least got a shot there, but it probably won’t hapen.
Northwestern has also sent offers to John Olmstead, a four-star from Metuchen, New Jersey and Zeke Correll of Cincinnati. Unfortunately, both have offers from Ohio State. Regardless of the result, it does seem like Northwestern is hoping to land at least one really good offensive line prospect down the road. It may not be any of the high-end four stars, but the offensive line does seem to be a priority. It’s definitely something to look out for over the next year or so.