Position Capsule: Offensive Line

Northwestern will bid farewell to three of its five starters on the offensive line. Normally, that would be a cause for crisis. In the case of these Wildcats, it's nothing to worry about. NU's offensive line is loaded with young talent waiting for the chance to play. PurpleWildcats gives a look at what the offensive line's future holds.

The guys we know— Rejoining the offensive line will be juniors-to-be Jack Konopka and Brandon Vitabile, each who have become mainstays on the frontline. Vitabile has solidified his place as one of the Big Ten's best centers. His snaps are on point and his effort is consistently strong.

It's a different story for Konopka. After being bounced between the offensive line and superback during his freshman season, Konopka found a home at right tackle. As the season progressed, he showed great improvements. However, it's no guarantee that his spot is safe.

Dearly departed— Northwestern bids farewell to tackle Patrick Ward and guard Brian Mulroe—each cornerstones of the offensive line; plus Neal Deiters, who found a role on the offensive line during his senior season. Their experience will be sorely missed moving forward.

So what's next?— The Northwestern coaches have been readying for the day when their veteran offensive linemen would finally move on. The Wildcats have added four offensive linemen in their 2011 and 2012 recruiting classes, and will do so again in 2013. Each class has been loaded with talent.

The leading candidate to take the blindside tackle role is Shane Mertz. The New Jersey native has battled injuries throughout his young career, but has plenty of potential. Nicknamed the "U.S.S. Mertz" but his head coach, he brings incredible size and solid footwork to the position. Likely lining up next to him will be fellow sophomore Geoff Mogus. The 6-foot-5, 280-pounder has bulked up considerably while waiting behind Brian Mulroe, and has been groomed to take the reins moving forward.

Also keep an eye on redshirt freshmen like Ian Park, Adam DePietro, and Eric Olson. Each lineman has high potential and now a year of learning under their belt.

Entering the fold— Northwestern had shut the door on its new class of linemen by the second week of June. Guard Blake King started the movement in May. On the same day, guard Brad North and center Tyler Lancaster gave their commitment (receiver Macan Wilson also committed that day, too). Just three days later, tackle Sam Coverdale joined the class.

Northwestern has stacked up its offensive line for yet another four years. With such strong, consistent recruiting, the future up front is very bright.

Prediction— The youth movement on the offensive line will be a great success. It will be Shane Mertz and Geoff Mogus lining up to the left of center Brandon Vitabile. On the right side, Adam DePietro will take guard and Jack Konopka will hold strong at right tackle.

Chris Emma has covered recruiting, college athletics and professional baseball for FOX Sports Next since 2009. Emma covered the Nebraska Cornhuskers for Big Red Report, and currently covers the Northwestern Wildcats. He resides on Chicago's north side.
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