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2022 Northwestern football position previews: Linebackers

Hello, Mr. Gallagher.

Syndication: Journal-Courier Nikos Frazier / Journal & Courier / USA TODAY NETWORK


Returning starters: Bryce Gallagher (Jr.)

Key losses: Chris Bergin (NFL free agent), Pete McIntyre (Graduated)

Returners: Mac Uhlein (So.), Xander Mueller (Jr.), Joe Dehaan (Jr.), Cullen Coleman (Jr.), Owen Bergin (Jr.), Greyson Metz (Jr.), Khalid Jones (Sr.)

Newcomers: Declan Carr (Gr. transfer, Drake), Wendell Davis Jr. (R-Jr. transfer, Pitt), Braydon Brus (Fy.), Kenny Soares Jr. (Fy.), Jason Reynolds II (Fy.), Miles Crutchley (Fy.)

Jim O’Neil’s defense last season was notoriously bad, as many of our previews have pointed out so far. And, despite the linebacking core utilizing the talents of one Chris Bergin — who lead the Big Ten at the end of the season 141 total tackles — what once was the majestic Irish Law Firm couldn’t elevate the ‘Cats higher than the title of worst rushing defense in the conference.

Then-sophomore Bryce Gallagher did what he could, riding right behind Bergin in team rankings with 90 tackles with 5.5 for loss, but it wasn’t enough to keep the ‘Cats from allowing 213 yards per game and 5.3 yards per carry — a stark increase from 2020’s 145 yards per game and 4.5 yards per carry. (Of course much of the blame fell on the D-line as well, but once the ball breaks the plane, the burden shifts.) In essence, the LB core was left relatively depleted after the departure of Paddy Fisher and Co., but the optimist in all of us would point to this year’s diverse squad and not be too worried it could get much worse.

Gallagher returns as a junior, prepared to lead peers, like Xander Mueller and Greyson Metz, who have been itching for the opportunity to see more playing time. The addition of two experienced transfers in Declan Carr and Wendell Davis Jr. partially replaces Bergin and Pete McIntyre's losses and gives O’Neil’s second shot at success slightly higher prospects in 2022.

Key Player

Bryce Gallagher

The added experience of the transfers does soften the load on Gallagher, who will likely take over Bergin’s spot as leader of the LB pack. The bonds he has already created with members of his class and the class below have the ability to transfer into better on-field communication than what he shared with Bergin in 2021, who had been playing with Fisher and Blake Gallagher (Bryce’s older brother, duh) for years already. Gallagher has shown he has the potential to take over the helm and lead O’Neil’s defense. It’s just about how his leadership plays out and disseminates to those around him.

Big Question

Who will start next to Gallagher?

Two of the three starting LB spots are up for grabs — the spots besides Gallagher come down between the transfers and Mueller, Metz and senior Khalid Jones, who combined for 38 tackles last season for NU, 19 of which came from Mueller alone. In addition, Carr and Davis Jr. bring three to four years of shared on-field experience from their respective stints at Drake and Pitt, both of whom could just as well compete for starting spots. That being said, the fun part about playing the guessing game is that until a verified depth chart is released, we won’t know the answers!

Depth Chart

Projected 2022 LB Depth Chart

Position First String Second String
Position First String Second String
WILL Xander Mueller Greyson Metz
MIKE Bryce Gallagher Khalid Jones
SAM Wendell Davis Jr. Declan Carr