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Top position battles for Northwestern football in 2017

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If Northwestern is going to compete in 2017, the team will have to sort out these position battles on the roster.

NCAA Football: Indiana at Northwestern Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Northwestern has stars at running back, safety, and quarterback. However, that certainly does not mean the Wildcats are immune to holes on the roster. After the departures of Ifeadi Odenigbo, Anthony Walker, Austin Carr, and a few others, Northwestern needs some players to step up and make a difference. Those players will be battling it out in training camp for a starting role.

Defensive End

Candidates: Trent Goens, Tommy Carnifax, Earnest Brown IV, Trevor Kent

Northwestern has one surefire player at defensive end in Joe Gaziano. His partner on the other side of the defensive line is still unknown. Trent Goens and Tommy Carnifax are the two veterans in the mix, but they are both sophomores and have hardly played over the past two years because of Northwestern’s depth at the position. Goens has five career tackles, but he does have an interception to his name (thanks Purdue). Two highly-ranked recruits in Trevor Kent and Earnest Brown are behind them on the depth chart, but they could be called into action due to poor play or an injury.

Given Northwestern’s need at the position and the skill of the two players, it’s unlikely that Brown and Kent will redshirt. They are the future of the Wildcats’ defensive line, and hopefully it’s only a matter of when they start making an impact. However, expecting huge results from true freshmen is particularly dicey.

Whatever the case, Northwestern desperately needs someone to bring pressure alongside Gaziano and Tyler Lancaster next year.

Middle Linebacker (MIKE)

Candidates: Paddy Fisher, Nathan Fox

In this important position battle, Northwestern has two redshirt sophomores vying for the top spot. Nathan Fox and Paddy Fisher were Anthony Walker’s understudies last season. Fox was higher up on the depth chart, filling in admirably when The Franchise needed rest. Unfortunately for our scouting report, Walker rarely took plays off, meaning that Fox has just just 13 tackles in his career. Fisher has not yet appeared in a game, but he looked good in spring and won a Defensive Practice Player of the Week Award last season.

Fisher and Fox are not well-known quantities, but Northwestern has usually been able to develop good linebackers (Walker, Joe Jones, Jaylen Prater, Cam Quiero, etc.) when it needs to.

Right Tackle

Candidates: Gunnar Vogel, Andrew Otterman, Jason Goosen

You’ve likely never heard of any of these names! Hopefully, this somehow works out for the Wildcats. Northwestern has four returning starters on the offensive line, but the fifth spot is an open competition. Gunnar Vogel is the presumptive favorite coming out of spring, but he’s a redshirt freshman and has no Big Ten experience to speak of. Redshirt sophomore Andrew Otterman played in all of Northwestern’s games last season, but only as a sparsely-used backup. He could definitely still be in the mix.

Honestly, we’ll have no idea who is starting here until Kenosha at the earliest, and kickoff against Nevada at the latest.

Kicker

Candidates: Drew Luckenbaugh, Charlie Kuhbander, Mason Weissenhoffer

With Jack Mitchell gone, Northwestern has yet another wide-open competition. Your guess is as good as ours for who wins. There’s a decent chance that the kicker who wins the start against Nevada won’t even be the kicker against Illinois, depending on what happens during the season. It’s just about even, to be honest.

Kuhbander, a true freshman, was the third-best kicking prospect in the country heading into his Northwestern career. Mason Weissenhoffer was a top Illinois kicker in high school but has the least reputation of the three. Drew Luckenbaugh kicked well in high school, but he was not very good in the spring practices we witnessed. Rolling a three-sided die should be about as accurate as picking a winner on July 15th.