Returning starters: Charlie Mangieri (Gr.), Marshall Lang (Sr.), Thomas Gordon (R-Sr.)
Key losses: None
Returners: Duke Olges (R-Sr.), Chris Petrucci (So.), Hunter Welcing (Sr.), Lawson Albright (Jr.), Blake Van Buren (So.)
Newcomers: Camp Magee (Fy.), Jack Fitzgerald (Fy.)
Northwestern’s tight end group wasn’t the driving engine of the 2022 offense, but it was one of the team’s deepest position rooms. Without any departures — unless you want to count first-year Chico Holt, who transferred to Stanford in the wake of Pat Fitzgerald’s firing — that depth can only increase. In fact, the tight ends are so experienced that one can argue they make up the strongest position group on the team.
Given how often Mike Bajakian has employed two and three-tight end sets in the past, that strength in numbers is key. In addition to the returns of Lang and Gordon, who were among NU’s steadiest targets last season, the ‘Cats will get their 2021 starter back after he missed the final nine games of 2022. Charlie Mangieri should be a nice add to a receiving corps that was already thin going into the offseason before Northwestern lost its top three pass-catchers. There are at least three potential starters in the fold, and that’s never a bad thing.
Lang played a pretty significant role in the passing game last year, and was the leading receiver from the tight end room with 192 yards. Even when he shared the field with Mangieri in 2021, the Cincinnati native saw more red zone looks and snagged more passes than any other tight end on the team. Unless Gordon plays so well that he earns a lion’s share of targets, Lang’s role in the receiving department is almost definitely going to be significant without a slew of returning pass-catchers who have seen the field.
His pass and run-blocking haven’t been great, but that’s where having three potential starters in the room comes in handy. At the same time, though, improvement in those areas from Lang could give Northwestern some offensive versatility. If Bajakian is going to maintain a run-heavy offense, and his offensive line is going to reshuffle, then there’s a good chance he’s going to value blocking tight ends when it comes to snap distribution. Should Lang improve enough there, he can go from a reliable receiving option to a player NU can scheme around on every play.
Who are the starters, and how many of them are there?
Gordon, Lang, Mangieri and even Duke Olges all have on-field experience. Because of that, and NU’s traditional emphasis on the run, there’s a decent chance that the ‘Cats will regularly roll with multiple TEs. Even though David Braun could make a different call, Bajakian is still calling plays and North Dakota State’s offense was just as reliant on power rushing and short passing.
Mangieri’s return makes this especially interesting. Even when he entered 2021 as the starter, Lang played significantly near the end of the year. Now, with Gordon having emerged as a solid receiver who was good enough in 2022 to split time with Lang, Northwestern has three starting options. It remains to be seen if Bajakian will rotate them depending on the situation, if he’ll run with just two or if there will be packages where he’ll deploy the entire trio. If one of them doesn’t play well, does a younger player like Chris Petrucci or even Camp Magee emerge like Lang did as a sophomore?
These are pretty good problems to have, and when looking at the rest of the roster, it’s clear that they’re some of the best question marks Northwestern has right now.
Depth Chart (via ourlads.com)
2023 TE Depth Chart (per Ourlads)
|Second String||Thomas Gordon|
|Third String||Charlie Mangieri|
|Fourth String||Duke Olges|