CJ Bacher exits, opening the door for 5th-year senior Mike Kafka. Backing up Kafka will likely be redshirt sophomore Dan Persa, who played on special teams in 2008.
|Northwestern QBs Passing 2008|
|Northwestern QBs Rushing 2008|
Kafka got penty of playing time last year when Bacher missed time, and has plenty of practice experience in the system. He’s more of a running threat than Bacher was, though perhaps not quite the passer. The backups are all inexperienced in game situations.
Redshirt junior Stephen Simmons, who has played plenty over the past couple years when the starters were injured, will be the starter. Behind him, walkon Jacob Schmidt is the only player with a carry to his name. Jeravin Matthews, one of two true freshmen to play last year, is a likely candidate to be the primary backup.
|Northwestern RBs Rushing 2008|
|Northwestern RBs Receiving 2008|
Tyrell Sutton and Omar Conteh have been carrying this team over the past couple years, so losing them will be a big hit. Even worse is the fact that Simmons had a horrific (sub 3 YPC) average last year. Still, he’s a fast guy, and if Northwestern can get him into open space, there is big-pplay potential.
Northwestern’s top 3 receivers from last year depart, taking with them 73% of the position group’s receptions from last year. Stepping up are two notably white (not unlike Peterman and Lane) players in true sophomore Jeremy Ebert and former quarterback 5th-year Andrew Brewer (who may be back for a 6th year if he desires to seek a medical redshirt for his sophomore season). Junior Sidney Stewart, former Michigan safety Charles’s little brother, will probably be third wideout. Tight ends Josh Rooks and Brendan Mitchell both return.
|Northwestern Receivers Receiving 2008|
|Josh Rooks (TE)||7||46||2||6.57|
|Brendan Mitchell (TE)||2||6||1||3.00|
|Northwestern Receivers Rushing 2008|
The Wildcats will have to basically start over in the receiving corps, as the returning players accounted for very little production last year (od for a team running a spread set). The lost players were also the best in terms of average per reception, so with a new quarterback and seemingly no deep threat, there could be trouble for the Northwestern passing game.
Left guard Keegan Kennedy is gone after starting all of last year, but the rest of the Wildcat OL should still be around. Redshirt sophomore (and former walkon) Doug Bartels should start at one of the guard spots, redshirt sophomore Ben Burkett will return after starting all of last year at center, redshirt sophomore Al Netter will return after playing left tackle all of last year, and 5th-year Desmond Taylor will return at right tackle. That leaves just one guard position open, and primary backup Joel Belding is no longer around to fill in. 5th-year Kurt Mattes, who is a tackle by trade, may be called upon to fill in. Mike Boyle will be the key backup at tackle, and Keegan Grant, who was hampered by an ankle injury last year, is the main backup on the interior.
The offensive line returns almost entirely intact, and perhaps more impressively, the Wildcats started 3 redshirt freshmen last year, giving them a young but experienced group. They’ll need it, with a ton of uncertainty at the skill positions. The group allowed very few sacks last year, but were below-average in paving the way for the run. With a more mobile quarterback this year, they could be doing a lot more run blocking.
Northwestern has a pretty experienced offensive line, but the lack of talent and depth at the skill positions is rather frightening. Unless Simmons can improve by leaps and bounds from his performance last year, and Kafka can become a more well-rounded player, the Wildcats should have a pretty anemic offense. Look for some serious steps back from this group unless the offensive line just blows teams away.
5th-year Corey Wootton is a legitimate All-American candidate at one of the defensive end positions, and redshirt sophomore Vince Browne will probably man the other spot. At defensive tackle, Corbin Bryant is expected to slide inside from defensive end and fill a starting role. Seniors Marshall Thomas and Adam Hahn will rotate at the other spot. Sophomores Jack DiNardo and Kevin Watt are reserve defensive ends.
|Northwestern Defensive Line 2008|
Outside of Wootton, this defensive line is nothing to really fear. Starting a 280-lb former DE at tackle might be a problem in terms of run defense, as Corbin Bryant may not have the strength and size required to hold the point of attack. Losing the top two performers on the defensive line (Wootton was hurt for a portion of the year) invariably is a bad thing, and I expect a step back from the Wildcats’ defense.
Prince Kwateng is gone, and Nate Williams and Quentin Davie are the only known commodities in the linebacking corps. An otherwise inexperienced and unheralded player will have to step up in the third spot, perhaps Ben Johnson or Bryce McNaul.
|Northwestern Linebackers 2008|
Kwateng left with the most tackles on the team, and without him (and with NO experienced players to step in), the linebacker group will take a serious step back. An unproven player will ave to either be a pleasant surprise or a liability at the second level for Northwestern.
The entire starting secondary from last year’s team returns, with seniors Brad Phillips and Brendan Smith at the safety positions, senior Sherrick McManis at one corner position, and redshirt sophomore Jordan Mabin (a freshman All-American last year) at the other. Plenty of depth also returns, with Brian Peters, Mike Bolden, and Justan Vaughn ready to fill in if needed.
|Northwestern Defensive Backs 2008|
The secondary should be a serious strength for Northwestern. Last year’s top-25 pass efficiency defense returns every starter and all the key backups. The DBs were pretty good playmakers last year, recording 10 interceptions among the starters. If they can build on that season, they may be able to be the strength of the NU defense.
The first two levels are a little weak (primarily linebackers), but the secondary should be pretty rockin’. With good pressure on the opposing QBs from the likes of Wootton, the playmaking secondary, with all its experience, should be able to get their fair share of turnovers in 2009. The main problems with the defense look to be the rush D, with the undersized d-line, and the offense’s potential inability to stay on the field.
Amado Villareal and Kyle Daley both depart. Stefan Demos, a junior, will continue punting duties, and may take over placekicking resposbility as well.
|Northwestern Kicking 2008|
|Northwesten Punting 2008|
Demos was a subpar punter last year, and likely doesn’t have the strongest leg in the world. Even if an unknown player can step in and take care of field goals, this unit will probably be a weakness in 2009.
Offense: bad, defense: mediocre to good. Northwestern probably won’t be as good a team as they were last year, and they likely won’t face as easy a schedule (top 20 easiest in the nation) as they did last year. Taking that all into account, it looks like there’s probably a precipitous slide down the Big Ten standings in order for the Wildcats. Pat Fitzgerald is a pretty good coach, so hopefully for Northwestern, it will be a rebuilding year for a strong 2010.
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