Football: Defensive tackle Tyler Lancaster primed for a breakout year

Huzaifa Patel, Reporter

Everyone saw the play. It was the opening drive against Stanford, second and 9 at the Northwestern 13 with the Cardinal driving down the field seemingly at will. The play call was a wide receiver reverse, and the wideout had what looked like open field ahead.

Sophomore defensive tackle Tyler Lancaster, seemingly out of nowhere, flew in to make a perfect-form tackle, containing the edge with exceptional quickness. And suddenly everyone wanted to know who he was.

“There was a lot of hoopla about the play, but that was my job,” Lancaster said after Tuesday’s practice. “I had to get contain, and I saw him coming around. And I knew I had to get outside of him, and I just chased him to the edge. I did my job.”

The Romeoville, Illinois, native out of Plainfield East High School was recruited as an offensive center, defensive line coach Marty Long said, and struggled early with the transition to defensive tackle. As an offensive lineman, Lancaster was used to knowing the snap count rather than reacting to the snap of the ball. He also dealt with injuries that forced him to miss much of the 2014 season.

“It was kind of hard mentally then, but that just increased my work ethic,” Lancaster said. “I’ve been working to get stronger, like running with coach (Jay) Hooten after practice every day. I knew that even last year I had the potential to make a big impact, and I wasn’t able to. So that drove me further to do it big this year, and I think I have so far.”

As a redshirt freshman, Lancaster cited explosiveness as his biggest strength. But this week, he was ready to add power to that list thanks to long hours spent working with strength coaches. It has definitely shown on the field, as Lancaster is clogging rushing lanes and handling double teams extremely well. While he has recorded a modest five tackles, he has made life much easier for the NU linebackers.

Long said Lancaster was seven-for-seven at the point of attack against Duke, playing a big part in slowing down the Blue Devils’ running game.

“(Sophomore linebacker) Anthony Walker is making a lot of tackles because of Tyler Lancaster and (senior) C.J. Robbins,” Long said.

Lancaster’s reaction to his coach’s praise?

“Well I’d like to say you’re welcome Anthony, but, I mean, I’m doing my job,” Lancaster said. “Being there in the middle, we know we’re not going to get a lot of the (media) looks … but when we hold up those linemen, Anthony is allowed to shoot in and get that tackle.”

Lancaster was quick to credit the veteran leadership of the team, particularly his mentor senior defensive end Dean Lowry.

“Me and Tyler are lifting buddies, and he’s one of the strongest guys on the team. So he’s always pushing us upperclassmen to get stronger,” Lowry said, adding that Lancaster bench presses more than 400 pounds. “Coming in we had some injuries there (at defensive tackle), but Tyler has been lights out so far and really been one of the X-factors of our defensive line.”

It’s no surprise Lancaster can lift that amount. There is perhaps nothing more striking about him than his size, which is unique even for an NU defensive tackle. Clogging up running lanes is definitely his strong suit, but Lancaster is looking to increase his versatility. Even as a freshman, Lancaster pointed out pass rush as his biggest area for improvement. While he plays primarily on first and second down, he is still looking to improve that aspect of his game.

Long also sees him expanding his leadership role in the future.

“He leads by example,” Long said. “I think I see him in the future as a guy that’s going to talk more, but right now, he’s leading by example. He’s got juice, but he’s not a rah-rah guy.”

Lancaster will have his hands full with Big Ten guards and centers in a couple of weeks. For now, he’s focused only on Ball State.

“Seriously, I have not looked forward,” Lancaster said. “It’s all in the moment. I’ve seen games on TV, and I’ve watched how the offensive linemen move. But I haven’t really focused on a certain guy. I’m just going to play them all the same. My hardest.”

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