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Northwestern Spring Preview: The Linebackers

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Chi Chi Ariguzo is Northwestern's leading returning tackler. Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images.
Chi Chi Ariguzo is Northwestern's leading returning tackler. Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images.

The Northwestern linebackers made a lot of big plays in 2013. Led by Chi Ch Ariguzo, this was a strong unit for the Wildcats. Ariguzo was an honorable mention All-Big Ten selection as he picked off four passes and finished second on the team in tackles with 106. Meanwhile, middle linebacker Damien Proby led the team in tackles with 112. Collin Ellis made three interceptions of his own, including two pick sixes in their opener against Cal.

Major Losses 

Last year was Proby’s senior season, meaning Ellis will move to the middle linebacker role in 2014. Proby’s backup, Timmy Vernon, also was a senior last year.

Next In Line

Jimmy Hall and Drew Smith both need to perform well this year for Northwestern. Hall is moving from the secondary to linebacker while Smith is now an upperclassman who will have increased responsibilities this year. Will Jaylen Prater be healthy this year? He was on the two-deep at middle linebacker last year until his season-ending injury. Joseph Jones made the two-deep by the end of last season as a redshirt freshman.

Players To Keep An Eye On

There isn’t a whole lot of exciting young talent at the linebacker position. One of the many freshmen who redshirted last year could emerge, but we’ll have to wait and see. The starters are solid veterans. Hall is the player to watch as I liked him when he got the chance to play in the secondary so hopefully he will be able to play a bigger role at linebacker.

What's Needed To Succeed In 2014

Ellis needs to step up his game now that he's the leader on defense as the middle linebacker. As he goes, so goes the rest of the unit. Hall’s transition has to be smooth and ideally Drew Smith has a breakout season.