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What Rashawn Slater’s departure means for the offensive line

The senior’s decision to opt out and prepare for the NFL draft leaves a big hole to be filled.

Massachusetts v Northwestern Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

Rashawn Slater’s announcement that he would be opting out of a football season this academic year was a tough pill to swallow for Northwestern fans. Expected, perhaps, but still tough nonetheless. After an impressive three-year career, capped by a stellar junior campaign, the left tackle had little left to prove and plenty to risk playing a season just weeks before the NFL combine and draft.

The Wildcats will certainly miss Slater, not just for his dominance on the field, but as a team leader as well. The Sugar Land, Texas, product now becomes the second offseason departure from the 2019 offensive line, following the graduation of center Jared Thomas.

Despite NU’s top lineman sitting out the potential season, the unit has more competitive depth than it has had in years. Slater’s versatility led him to shift from right tackle to left tackle last season, and the void he leaves could be followed by some rearranging of the remaining offensive linemen. Fortunately, players like Ethan Widerkehr, Sam Gerak and Nik Urban have all played several spots on the line, giving second-year position coach Kurt Anderson plenty of flexibility.

Here’s the breakdown of his potential successors protecting the quarterback’s blindside:

Ethan Wiederkehr

The redshirt junior is the simple and likely option to take Slater’s spot at left tackle. Wiederkehr played in all twelve games in 2019, and he started the last three at right tackle filling in for an injured Gunnar Vogel. His play was inconsistent but better as a starter, helping the ‘Cats to two of their best rushing games of the season. His experience gives him the upper hand over the other contenders.

Payne He’Bert

The redshirt sophomore hasn’t seen the field much, but he’s the only other tackle on the roster who has seen any playing time. He’Bert has appeared in just one game, but an extended period of offseason development and positional opportunity certainly works in his favor.

Peter Skoronski

The true freshman comes out of high school as NU’s highest-rated recruit of the ratings era according to 247Sports, and he’s already got good size at 6-foot-4 and 275 pounds. Skoronski played plenty of tackle in high school and is projected to excel as an interior lineman going forward. He has drawn comparisons to NFL centers Billy Price and Frank Ragnow, but his versatility and impressive skillset likely means that he has the tools to play anywhere on the line. Don’t sleep on the Park Ridge native to make a push for the starting job.

Regardless of who ends up taking the potential first-rounder’s slot, the success of this year’s offensive line will be an important test for Anderson. In his first year of work, his #TrenchCats ranked 55th nationally in sacks given up (1.91 per game) and 44th nationally in the run game despite an offense that was very predictable and unable to establish much through the air. The line showed a lot of promise towards the end of the season, and it was downright dominating at times.

Now, we’ll get a chance to see how Anderson is able to develop his players, and whether or not he can build on last season’s successes, even with the departure of two program anchors. As seems to be the case with everything in 2020, only time will tell.