And while there is still a lot of mystery on the other positions we’ve covered on offense, at least there are specific players we can turn to and anticipate what their role might be or what we can expect to see. But when it comes to the Northwestern offensive line, there are absolutely no guarantees.
As much as we’vr covered how important the decision at quarterback is going to be, the overall effectiveness of the position will only be as successful as the line protecting him.
For the past four seasons, the offensive line was anchored by center Brandon Vitabile. Vitabile started every game of his career at Northwestern, and even when linemen around him struggled, Vitabile was solid and reliable. Undrafted initially, Vitabile signed a free agent contract with the Indianapolis Colts in May, leaving a big hole in the middle for Northwestern this season.
It should not be understated how important the offensive line is going to be for the Wildcats this season, not only in protecting the quarterback, but in the run game as well. There is no question that they are going to depend on the ground attack early and often this season, but unless the protection up front is solid, the offense is going to have difficulty moving down the field.
Brad North is being projected right now as the starting center, Matt Frazier and Eric Olson are returning from last year, and red shirt freshmen Blake Hance and Tommy Doles will certainly have opportunities after being highly recruited, but be prepared to see a game of offensive lineman musical chairs that should extend into the first few weeks of the season.
Player to Watch – Geoff Mogus
In losing Vitabile, the Wildcats are not only losing their best and most dependable lineman, they are losing one of their leaders. A team captain in his junior and senior seasons, Vitabile was someone they could depend on to guide younger players along. The team is going to miss him well beyond the depth chart.
It should be noted that for Mogus, it is his experience that puts him in this position more than his past production as a player. And it remains to be seen whether he’ll be moved to tackle or not. Every spot on the line is open, and coach Pat Fitzgerald has said that he intends to put the best five guys out there.
His leadership will be the quality they will need to turn to most as they open practice this month, no matter what position he ends up with on the field. With so many underclassman on the line this year, Mogus will have to be the one to fill the leadership void left by Vitabile, and anchor the line for whoever is taking the snaps behind him.
Mogus has seen time at guard and tackle, but took the majority of the snaps in spring practice at left tackle, leading me to believe that is where they want to see the red shirt senior this season. In fact, as much as I built up the loss at center, left tackle is arguably a more important position on the offensive line, and a spot where they are going to want to put their best player.
The offensive line will be one of the most interesting positions to watch over the next few weeks with so many moving parts. And while Mogus is the most obvious player to watch, there is no guarantee how he’ll take to a move to tackle.
While the focus will remain on the battles at the higher profile offensive positions, its hard to feel good about an offensive line with a lack of experience both individually and as a unit.