2014 Northwestern football preview: offensive line

Huzaifa Patel, Reporter

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2013 review, by the numbers 

36: The Northwestern offensive line gave up 36 sacks last year, losing a total of 198 yards of offense. As a reference point, Iowa, Wisconsin and Nebraska allowed just 15, 16, and 17 respectively. If the Wildcats want to be among the top teams in the Big Ten, they need to protect senior quarterback Trevor Siemian and give him time to utilize the talented crop of skill players the Wildcats have. Some of 2013’s high sack total can be attributed to former quarterback Kain Colter’s playing style, but it remains true that the offensive line must improve in pass protection.

4.1: This was the combined yards per carry of the NU rushing attack in 2013. Missing Venric Mark for much of the season definitely contributed to the low output. With the news of his transfer, the offensive line will be relied on even more to create rushing lanes.

4: The Wildcats had different starters at four of the five offensive line positions entering last seasons, which likely contributed to their inconsistencies up front. Rather than entering with a full offseason to build chemistry and experience, the unit had to learn on the job. Adding to the struggle was sophomore Ian Park being replaced eight games into the season by junior Matt Frazier.

Projected depth chart, via ourlads.com:

Left Tackle

Left Guard

Center

Right Guard

Right Tackle

Jack Konopka (Sr.)

Geoff Mogus (Jr.)

Brandon Vitable (Sr.)

Matt Frazier (Jr.)

Paul Jorgenson (Sr.)

Shane Mertz (Jr.)

Adam DePietro (So.)

Hayden Baker (Sr.)

Ian Park (So.)

Eric Olsen (So.)

Kenton Playko (So.)

Blake King (RS Fr.)

Brad North (RS Fr.)

Tommy Doles (Fr.)

Sam Coverdale (RS Fr.)

Blake Hance (Fr.)

J.B. Butler (Fr.)

Zack Guritz (RS Fr.)

Graham Bullmore (RS Fr.)

Seniors Konopka, Vitable and Jorgenson as well as junior Geoff Mogus, are penciled in as starters. Frazier and Park will likely battle for the right guard spot with sophomore Adam DePietro as a depth piece, considering his familiarity of the right and left guard positions.

2014 Outlook

Although the team is returning its pass-catching core, minus Christian Jones, they still need to run to set up the pass. The success of the inside zone and outside zone run is pivotal to the success of the offense. The team will need to run well on first down to make life easier for Siemian in the pocket. The Cats will miss the added dimension Colter’s zone read and speed option brought to the offense, but the loss can be made up by a more effective zone run and passing game, which will start with better execution up front.

How do they plan to improve?

Senior center Brandon Vitabile, in an interview with Matt Carlson of NUSports, said the line has two major goals during its offseason program.

“Being more physical as a group, taking the fight to people, not getting hit in the mouth but to deliver the blow,” Vitable said. “And playing as a unit. Being more accountable to each other, working together, improving our on-the-field and off-the-field relationships, and the chemistry we have will carry over.”

Offensive line coach Adam Cushing agrees.

“We really stressed playing together a lot better, and how each individual will understand the greater scheme, and how each individual, their play affects the guy on either side of them,” Cushing told NUSports.

Email: huzaifapatel2017@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @HuzaifaPatel95

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