Lost in the shuffle, behind the three productive starters, were key role players such as Collin Ellis and Drew Smith. Both boasted their abilities in flashes last season, but have the potential to make an impact moving forward.
What about?— There was an unfamiliar face joining the linebacking core during the Gator Bowl. You may have recognized No. 9 with the group in nickel packages. Converted safety Jimmy Hall has joined the linebackers, but now as a full-timer. Hall has added considerable size to his frame. With his agility and ability to read the offense, he'll be a great fit at the weakside spot, or even just as a nickelback.
Keep an eye on— Another intriguing position swap involved redshirt freshman Joseph Jones, another safety moved to linebacker. Jones was a track star at Plano (Ill.) High School, and an overall strong athlete. He has now bulked up to a linebacker's frame. Jones could see some playing time next season, though it's hard to tell what his role would be.
Two other redshirt freshmen to watch for are Eric Wilson and Jaylen Prater. The scout team offers reserve players the chance to impress the coaching staff, and both Wilson and Prater took advantage of their opportunities. Pat Fitzgerald raved about the pair toward the end of the season. While reps are limited, both have the chance to make an impact.
Entering the fold— A highly touted prospect from the Sunshine State, three-star linebacker Anthony Walker enters the Northwestern program with plenty of potential. It's likely he'll wear a redshirt for his first year on campus. One of the most exciting names to follow is that of Brett Walsh, an under-the-radar linebacker from Monorovia, Calif., who won over Northwestern coaches.
Prediction— The consistent Damien Proby and Chi Chi Ariguzo deliver another stellar season on the Northwestern defense. Both will earn All-Big Ten honors for their efforts. Jimmy Hall, Drew Smith, and Joseph Jones will see playing time on the outside, while Eric Wilson will man in the middle along with Proby.