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Football Notebook: Lancaster ‘proud’ to receive No. 1 jersey, calls it ‘a responsibility’

Tyler+Lancaster+%28center%29+fights+a+block+in+a+game+last+year.+Lancaster+was+given+the+prestigious+No.+1+jersey+this+season.
Tyler Lancaster (center) fights a block in a game last year. Lancaster was given the prestigious No. 1 jersey this season.

Tyler Lancaster (center) fights a block in a game last year. Lancaster was given the prestigious No. 1 jersey this season.

Daily file photo by Leeks Lim

Daily file photo by Leeks Lim

Tyler Lancaster (center) fights a block in a game last year. Lancaster was given the prestigious No. 1 jersey this season.

Cole Paxton, Web Editor

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Coach Pat Fitzgerald said defensive tackle Tyler Lancaster leads more by example than with his voice, which, Lancaster pointed out, is more plausible in part because of his size.

Speaking following practice Wednesday, Lancaster and his coach expressed pride over the 6-foot-4, 315-pound senior’s earning of the program’s prestigious No. 1 jersey, given to the player who best exemplifies the Wildcat spirit. The honor is voted upon by Northwestern players.

“To be elected to get that number, I couldn’t be more proud to get that,” Lancaster said. “It’s a responsibility, like, ‘I deserve that because they elected me to represent them.’”

The award is the culmination of a strong two seasons for Lancaster, who has started every game since the 2015 season opener and recorded 10.5 tackles for loss in that time. He also forced a fumble in the Pinstripe Bowl upset of Pittsburgh last year.

Lancaster has likewise made a mark in the weight room, recording 34 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press.

“He’s always been a great worker in the weight room, a great player. To see him take it to the next level has been really spectacular,” Fitzgerald said. “Just to see the relentless nature in which he attacks every day is really special.”

Given the departure of stalwarts Ifeadi Odenigbo and C.J. Robbins, who have graduated, and the ongoing suspension of Xavier Washington due to a drug-related arrest in the spring, Lancaster sits among the small stable of experienced hands on the defensive line. Coupled with middle linebacker Anthony Walker’s move to the NFL, the Cats’ front seven is somewhat light on game experience.

Asked if that added urgency to his newly-minted leadership honor, Lancaster said “yes and no.”

“They’ve really impressed me,” he said of his inexperienced defensive counterparts. “They are young. I have to step it up. … But I do trust them.”

Fitzgerald praises running backs

Fitzgerald also noted the impressive work of his stable of running backs, saying that “if you were to ask our team who had the best offseason, they’d probably say the running backs.”

The position is strong at the top, with senior Justin Jackson coming off a third straight 1,000-yard season and likely needing just a few games to set NU’s career rushing record. Fitzgerald also lauded sophomore John Moten, who shined in a reserve role last November and is expected to take a step forward after battling a shoulder injury.

“John Moten is a tough guy,” Fitzgerald said. “I’ve been really impressed with what’s he’s done this offseason. He’s a really good player. … I’m excited about him.”

Redshirt freshman Jeremy Larkin, a highly touted recruit, is another intriguing candidate for playing time. Larkin also excitedly noted the depth, saying “six, seven guys (form) a good core group.”

Given the Cats’ unsettled picture at wide receiver and the departure of several stalwarts on special teams, Fitzgerald hinted that players up and down the running back depth chart could see the field.

“Competitive depth. Guys that are going to make an impact at running back, guys going to make an impact in the kicking game,” Fitzgerald said. “We should get a lot of production out of that room.”

Kicker competition still wide open

Fitzgerald says there were no frontrunners for the wide-open competition at kicker, which gained notoriety at Big Ten Media Days when Fitzgerald announced that seven candidates were competing for the open job.

“We’re just going to let the reps play themselves out and see how the guys do,” Fitzgerald said. “It’ll probably be ongoing for a while, but we don’t have to make a decision before the opener.”

Graduate transfers Makay Redd and Luke Otto are both in the mix, Fitzgerald confirmed, though Otto will only compete for the kickoff role. At place kicker, Fitzgerald said the kicker who makes the most kicks in training camp may not necessarily win the job.

“It’s going to be, more importantly, the timing, the operation, and then the rotation of the ball and the consistency of the rotation of the ball,” Fitzgerald said. “So as we get into football, real life, who can we trust when we start the season?”

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Twitter: @ckpaxton

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