NU Defensive Line Turns Some Heads

Northwestern's defense, specifically the front four, stole the show in Saturday's spring scrimmage. It may have been just one day in April, but the performance is a sign of hope for a young, fiery unit.

Northwestern finished last in the Big Ten in 2011 in sacks, but if Saturday's spring exhibition is any indication, that may soon change. NU's quarterbacks will be the first to tell you that.

"The defensive line definitely was teeing off a little bit," quarterback Trevor Siemian said after the 75-play scrimmage. "We tried to mix up the snap count, but those guys are on scholarship, too. They're pretty good over there."

When all was said and done, the defense finished with six "sacks" — quarterbacks were ruled down on touch to avoid injury — which totaled 30 yards. The unit was led by Deonte Gibson, whose two sacks netted 10 yards, and Chance Carter, who scored a touchdown after intercepting a pass by Zack Oliver.

"The defense is doing great. I'm really surprised and I'm happy for them," quarterback Kain Colter said. "Seeing them do good makes me feel good just going into the season, knowing that I have full confidence that they're going to go out there and execute what they need to do."

Of the defenses six sacks, five came against Colter. The rising junior's mobile style put him at a disadvantage in a setting where he wasn't able to escape and evade tackles from oncoming linemen.

The spring exhibition showing could be a sign that the defensive line is on the verge of reversing a four-year trend that has seen the Wildcats go from first in sacks, as they were in 2008, to last season's last-place finish. That 2008 squad notched 34 sacks for a total of 140 yards lost, while 2011 saw just 17 sacks for 101 yards lost.

"I think that our defensive line is really improved," head coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "As they said at the start of the spring, 'we deserved (the negativity); we didn't play very well at times.' What are you going to do about it? How are you going to respond? That's something we value here. They've taken that as external motivation."

Fitzgerald singled out Brian Arnfelt and Tyler Scott as leaders of the defense and compared them to previous playmakers on the defensive line for the Wildcats.

"[Arnfelt] and Scott, on the field, are doing as good of a job as anyone we've had in our program leading in the D-Line." Fitzgerald said. "We've had some great ones and they're right there with them."

NU's defense would clearly benefit as a whole if the line continues to increase pressure on opposing offenses, taking some of the burden off of what will likely be a young secondary in 2012. It definitely did Saturday.

"We've got some pretty good, talented players on the D-Line," Colter said. "They got a little bit of pressure on us and made it tough."

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