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2019 Northwestern Football position previews: Offensive Line

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New offensive line coach Kurt Anderson has proven he can win on the recruiting trail, but will his young unit be able to succeed on the field in 2019?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 29 Michigan at Northwestern Photo by Daniel Bartel/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Overview:

Returning Starters: Rashawn Slater (Jr.), Jared Thomas (R-Sr.),

Key Losses: Tommy Doles, Blake Hance, J.B. Butler

Returners: Payne He’Bert (R-Fr.), Gunnar Vogel (Jr.), Nik Urban (Jr.), Sam Gerak (So.), Sam Stovall (R-So.), Ethan Wiederkehr (So.), Charlie Schmidt (R-Fr.), Wyatt Blake (R-Fr.), Willy Boatman (R-Fr.), Cam Kolwich (Jr.), Jason Goosen (Jr.), Jesse Meyler (Jr.),

Newcomers: Zachary Franks (Fr.), Connor Foster (Fr.), Conrad Rowley (Fr.), Dom D’Antonio (Fr.), Luke Trifunovic (Fr.)

As just about every Wildcat fan is keenly aware of, Northwestern’s offensive line will be undergoing a major transition as it enters the 2019 season. The ‘Cats lose three starters in the trenches, all vital components of the group for multiple years. The unit will also be without Adam Cushing, who was hired as the head coach at Eastern Illinois during the offseason after spending 14 years in Evanston and 12 years as the team’s offensive line coach.

While Cushing’s tenure had its ups and downs, his longevity creates a difficult-to-fill hole thanks to the near-certainty of various tweaks and changes to technique, game planning, and everything in between. New offensive line coach Kurt Anderson started his tenure with a bang on the recruiting trail, but he’s got his hands full.

Anderson has already proved he can secure highly-touted recruits, and now the question is whether he can provide results on the field. The offensive line, serving as a microcosm for the team as a whole, has recently struggled considerably to get going early in the year. With a tough early slate ahead, it’ll be critical for the group to be firing from the start, especially with the difficulties that stem from both a fresh scheme and a new starting quarterback.

Key Player:

Rashawn Slater

The Texas native is the anchor of this offensive line. In his first two years at Northwestern, Slater started all but two games at right tackle. During those seasons, he was arguably the most consistent linemen on the team. PFF College named him the best freshman offensive lineman in the country two years ago, and this past year, the scouting site praised Slater’s conference dominance again.

In the spring, Anderson intensified the importance of Slater’s position on the line by switching him to left tackle to replace the graduating Blake Hance. He’ll be tasked with defending the blind side of (most likely) Hunter Johnson, and if he isn’t able to produce to the level to which NU fans are accustomed, there’s little hope for this line in 2019. He’s that important. However, if there is anyone Northwestern fans should want protecting their five-star quarterback’s blind side, it’s the talented, quiet, and remarkably consistent Slater.

Big Question:

Will the three new starters be able to hold their own?

With three experienced members of the #TrenchCats (as they have been dubbed by their new coach) leaving the picture for NU, three new Wildcats will have to step up. Urban, Stovall, and Vogel project to replace the graduated seniors, and the three have only combined for 14 appearances thus far in their Northwestern careers. That isn’t zero experience, but it certainly isn’t much either.

The three, and even the depth behind them, haven’t given us an indication that they won’t be able to perform, but it remains a big question mark for Anderson’s unit. Can three inexperienced linemen come in and fill a void that will be front and center from kickoff against the Cardinal? The answer will have a big impact on NU’s early season success.

Fortunately for the team, Slater and Thomas are two impressive veterans that will be on hand to guide the new starters. I haven’t spoken much about Thomas, but the senior boasts over 30 games played and started all 14 contests this past season. Further, Thomas has three Academic All-Big Ten recognitions to his name. The young blood is in as good a pair of hands as you could ask for.

Depth Chart:

Offensive Line Depth Chart

LT LG C RG RT
LT LG C RG RT
Rashawn Slater Nik Urban Jared Thomas Sam Stovall Gunnar Vogel
Payne H'Bert Cam Kolwich Sam Gerak Jesse Meyler Ethan Wiederkehr