Preseason Outlook: Cornerbacks

In this week's installment of the preseason position outlook, we delve into the Wildcats' cornerbacks—a group that is collectively hoping to build off of a strong spring.

The cornerbacks will be a key cog in the defense making improvements this season. The numbers from last season don't fairly express it, but Northwestern's cornerbacks had a decent year. This spring, some questions were answered and the hope for Pat Fitzgerald and the NU coaches is that this group becomes one of the Big Ten's best.

The starters

When you talk about Northwestern's cornerbacks, you have to begin with returning starter Jordan Mabin, who has played in all 39 games of his college career.

Mabin (5-11, 185) is a top-notch cover corner and is great tackler. He has 190 career tackles—63 of those coming in 2010. A two-year starter, the Wildcats need Mabin to be an elite shutdown corner this season.

Opposite of Mabin, the starting spot has been taken. After a breakout spring, Jeravin Matthews—once a running back with the Wildcats—is set to take over as starter. During the spring, Pat Fitzgerald was even willing to pencil Matthews in as the starter for the opener with Boston College. Rightfully so.

Matthews (5-11, 175), a senior, impressed the coaches while working with the first-team this spring. After that, he is now in-line to become the full-time starter this season.

The depth

The Wildcats are in a very fortuitous position with depth in the secondary. Behind the two listed starters, Northwestern has plenty of options. Likely next in line behind Mabin and Matthews are Ricky Weina and Demetrius Dugar.

A former walk-on, Weina played in 11 of 13 games last season, but mainly served on special teams. He has just 12 total tackles during his career. That could change this season.

Weina was another one of the Wildcats' breakout performers in the spring. After fighting for the chance to walk on with the Wildcats, Weina is now battling for reps this season.

Now a junior, Demetrius Dugar is also hoping to see his playing time increase this season. During his first two seasons, Dugar was mainly buried on the depth chart, but saw some time on special teams. Dugar is continuously adding size and will likely be much-improved in 2011.

Redshirt freshman C.J. Bryant is another potential candidate for playing time after sitting out his first year. Bryant will need to add some more size, but could be a key contributor this season. If not, this season, he will surely be utilized in the future.

The freshman

With plenty of depth available, Pat Fitzgerald will have the option of either redshirting incoming freshmen Jarrell Williams and Nick VanHoose. If not, either one could potentially be useful immediately in the secondary. Also, with each of their standout speed, Williams and VanHoose could both come in handy in special teams.

Williams drew plenty of positive comments from Fitzgerald on National Signing Day. A local product, he could be an impact player in the future. Both of the Wildcats' freshmen have high potential to be great talents at the college level.

Preseason grade: B

This unit benefits from having a number of options. A major issue in 2010 was how the secondary was getting tired late in the game as the defense had trouble getting off the field. This year, Jordan Mabin and Jeravin Matthews should have no problems keeping their legs fresh—thanks to the depth behind them.

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