Today's August 4th. Football starts September 4th. I'm not a math major, but I did get a C in stats this quarter, which means I'm good enough with numbers to tell you that there's a 100 percent probability that today is one month from football season. Get your drinks, because it's about to get rowdy up in here.
Days Left Til Football: 31
One Less Day Til Football Season 2010, Post 6: The Defensive Line
Who did it last year?: As is the idea with a post about two positions, we'll break this up into two positions:
Defensive end was, in theory, the job of two people: Corey Wootton, who had proven himself as a really, really good player for about seven years, and Vince Browne, the young, scary strong sophomore. Browne was able to hold down his end of the bargain on the right side of the defense, not so for Wootton, who battled injuries all year long. When he was hurt, Kevin Watt and Quentin Williams filled in in spot duty, with Watt picking up two starts, and Williams getting an awkward interception one game. Watt was serviceable, but both guys were dropoffs from Wootton, and Wootton was a dropoff from the Wootton of old, meaning defenses could key in on Vince Browne, limiting him from what it appeared he could become after a great freshman campaign.
Defensive tackle was arguably the weakest position Northwestern had on either side of the ball. Corbin Bryant started every game of his junior campaign, but injuries at the other spot made an already middling unit suspect: Marshall Thomas was the starter out of training camp, but was supplanted by Adam Hahn after he recovered from a foot injury. Neither was truly healthy, meaning an also-injured Jack Dinardo and a healthy Niko Mafuli got reps. None of this was any good. NU was a truly pitiful team at stopping the run for parts of last year, and the majority of their issues came on simple runs up the middle where opposing offensive lines were able to clear mounds of space for their running back. I'd pin our losses against Minnesota, Syracuse, and our near loss against Eastern Michigan on the inability to stop runs up the middle - and I think that began with the defensive tackle spot.
Who's Got Next?:
At defensive end, Wootton is gone, so the premier rusher becomes Vince Browne. On the other side will be Kevin Watt, primarily, although Fitz said in media days he plans to play this position five-deep with Quentin Williams and redshirt freshman Tyler Scott getting tick.
Bryant will reprise his role at one defensive tackle, and with Jack DiNardo healthy, he'll actually be able to contribute for the whole season. DiNardo will be backed up by Niko Mafuli, who started at the spot in spring ball when DiNardo was recuperating from injury, and Bryant's understudy will be Brian Arnfelt, who I have never heard of ever.
Is that an improvement?
At defensive end, no. Wootton might not have had a great year last year, but he was there. Defenses had to respect his reputation. He received double teams for good portions of the year even with his less explosive first step on pass plays. Now, that onus of being "the guy you need to stop" shifts to Vince Browne on the other side. Teams will throw an extra blocker at him. Running backs will be left in the backfield as a safety valve if he breaks the first line of defense. Opposing lines will gameplan to prevent him from getting to the quarterback, instead of Wootton. The beginning of this happened last year as Wootton was somewhat ineffective, but now we'll see defenses keyed in on him and only him, and that's not good. Unless Watt is a revelation on the other side, this unit will have trouble getting to the quarterback with the consistency they were able to with Corey Wootton. Then again, Watt managed two sacks in relatively limited playing time last year, so, maybe he's got game.
Defensive tackle, however, should be markedly improved if two players can stay healthy. One of those two has to be Corbin Bryant. The other has to be anybody who can perform at 100 percent for 12 weeks. Last year's hodgepodge did nothing besides prove that an average defensive tackle playing at 80 percent in the Big Ten will get their ass handed to them on a variety of platters. So just that would be an improvement. If the question was "can this be a good unit if those two guys were healthy", well, I'm not sure. But it would be a step up from last year.