Linebackers: Leading the way

In this PurpleWildcats post-spring position breakdown, Steven Goldstein discusses the linebackers.

What they're saying

"We're looking to be more gap sound. Everyone's been running and letting loose." - Chi Chi Ariguzo

"With Chi Chi, the sky's the limit. He reminds me of a faster [former Wildcat linebacker Nick] Roach; he came out of the womb in a football position." - Pat Fitzgerald

Progress report

The undisputed best unit in the defense looked great in stopping the run and shored up its zone pass coverage. Without Damien Proby, Ariguzo stepped in as a big-time leader, going sideline-to-sideline and recording an interception of Trevor Siemian in one of the Wildcats' first practices. Joseph Jones worked at linebacker in the spring sessions, and while he faced an inevitable learning curve, the athleticism was certainly there.

The linebackers were burned on a few screen plays in scrimmages, but it was an overall impressive spring. Drew Smith laid down big hits and Pat Fitzgerald loves his energy. Collin Ellis filled in for Proby at middle linebacker. Interior runs were stuffed all spring long.

What we're thinking

With Proby's ascent to Big Ten stardom and Ariguzo's playmaker mentality, this is one of the better linebacking units in the conference.

Replacing David Nwabuisi will be tough, as Ariguzo will go from the strong side to the weak side to fill the void, but both Smith and Ellis are serviceable fill-ins.

Losing Brian Arnfelt hurts this group almost as much as losing Nwabuisi, as the front seven will now have to rely more on its linebackers to stop the run. Northwestern will be going against bigger running backs than Venric Mark and more experienced guards than Matt Frazier and Geoff Mogus come fall.

The fact that these guys performed well without Proby says something. With the senior middle linebacker back in the fold, this defense obviously gets much better.

It'll be interesting to see how often the Wildcats blitz this year. On one hand, Northwestern's unproven secondary will likely need help underneath, but without Arnfelt or Quentin Williams, Mike Hankwitz could look for more rushers from the linebacking level.

Northwestern had no trouble stopping the run last year, allotting just 3.77 yards per carry, and not all that much should change this year. Even without Nwabuisi, this is a rock-solid unit.

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