Northwestern 2014 Spring Ball Preview: Secondary
By Aaron Morse
The Northwestern secondary had mixed results during the 2013 season.
The unit struggled a bit containing opposing quarterbacks as it finished seventh in the Big Ten in opponent pass efficiency rating (124.04).
However, it made a number of big plays, especially early in the season. Safety Ibraheim Campbell set the play-making tone with three interceptions. His fellow safety Traveon Henry had a huge game against Michigan late in the season, recording 13 tackles before leaving the game with an injury.
Speaking of injuries, while Nick VanHoose had another solid season at cornerback, the Wildcats struggled to replace Daniel Jones at the other corner spot. Jones started the season opener against Cal only to suffer a season-ending injury. Freshman Dwight White had a tough time before being replaced later in the season by fellow freshman Matthew Harris. Harris held his own, but that spot was a weak point for an otherwise-solid unit.
Northwestern returns all its major contributors in the secondary. It also gets Jones back from injury. Only backups Davion Fleming and C.J. Bryant don’t return from last year’s squad. The secondary “loses” Jimmy Hall, who has moved to linebacker.
Next In Line
Sophomore Terrance Brown made the two-deep at the end of last season and contributed on special teams. Freshman safety Godwin Igwebuike redshirted last year, but was a four-star recruit out of high school. True freshman corner Parrker Westphal is the first player in Pat Fitzgerald's head coaching tenure to enroll early at Northwestern and is a four-star recruit.
Players To Keep An Eye On
Fans should pay close attention to how the three-way battle between Jones, Harris and White plays out for the corner spot opposite VanHoose. Westphal is the dark horse in this scenario. Right now, I would say Harris is the favorite to earn the starting spot as Jones has never been that impressive and Harris started as a true freshman, which is very rare for a player under Fitzgerald.
What's Needed For A Successful 2014
The secondary needs more of the same from Campbell and it needs Henry to play the entire season like he did against Michigan. Health always is an issue, but last year’s injury to Jones is a blessing in disguise, as White and Harris got experience they otherwise wouldn’t have gotten. This is a strong unit that should be the backbone of a solid defense.