The transformation of the Northwestern Wildcats‘ defense last season began with the improved play from the defensive line. The pressure from the front-four was ferocious and helped a secondary that struggled at times. Even though the Wildcats lose impact linemen like Brian Arnfelt and Quentin Williams, there are still six defensive linemen with significant playing experience coming back to Evanston.
The leader of the group is clearly Tyler Scott and his explosive first step off the snap. The senior is a difference maker in the trenches and led the team with nine sacks a year ago. He also forced three fumbles and picked up 12.5 tackles-for-loss and made constant appearances in the opponent’s backfield. Scott is able to make his teammates better and will be an important player for Northwestern next season.
If teams focus too much on Scott, the Wildcats will unleash their two sophomore athletes on the defensive line, Deonte Gibson and Dean Lowry. The two got into the rotation a lot last season and showed flashes of brilliance in their play. Both have great motors on them and are able to get into the backfield to make the big plays. Neither one of these players will need to do it all, but the two need to combine to give Northwestern some balance at defensive end to force teams not to put too much energy in blocking Scott.
Northwestern also returns three experienced defensive tackles who will be a part of a rotation at the position. The amount of experience returning on the defensive line is crucial if the Wildcats want to repeat their success from a year ago. The pressure applied by the front-four will have a direct correlation on whether Northwestern will compete in the Big Ten next season.