Offensive line settles in once again

Pat Fitzgerald and the O-line have heard the questions. And they look ready to surprise everyone.

"Just keep asking me questions," Pat Fitzgerald said following Northwestern practice on Friday. Then the head coach smirked, as though in midseason form.

Searching for storylines and areas of uncertainty, the media settled on the offensive line. Adam Cushing's unit lost three starters and lacked any clear rotation during spring.

Fitzgerald was asked once again about the state of his O-line, so he defended them—and for good reason. The offensive line has been one of the two most impressive position groups early in spring, with linebackers the other.

This isn't to say the guys up front are guaranteed to dominate every Saturday, but instead to note that the group with all of those "questions" looks prepared to fill the void.

Geoff Mogus and Ian Park could lock down starting roles at guard, with the more experienced Paul Jorgensen holding strong at right tackle. Regardless of who ends up earning those jobs, though, Fitzgerald does not expect any significant drop-off.

"The whole group can play," Fitzgerald said. "We've got to identify and solidify starters but this is a very athletic group. They love all the questions they've gotten, and they're making sure to do everything they can to improve."

Finally, the O-line got to "hit back" on Friday, as Fitzgerald put it. Against a fierce first-team defensive line, they were in sync when blocking the run, and uneven but still solid at protecting Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian.

"It's fun to just get back in the swing of things," Jorgensen said. "We got a little physical today and it was a good time. We're back to football."

Jorgensen stressed this: They aren't just thrown onto the line together. This unit–perhaps more so than others–realizes the importance of building chemistry throughout the summer. When they arrive at camp, each member of the line is aware of effective ways to interact with one another.

They get along well. The O-line relies on communication, and whenever the players taking first-team reps rotate out, they clearly discuss recent plays. No nonsense, no breakdowns.

"As an O-line, speaking from that, we go out for dinner all the time," Jorgensen said. "We like to eat. We're the big guys, and we're all best friends off the field."

Cushing needed to replace two starters last year, and did so with great success. He converted superback Jack Konopka into a right tackle (he'll play left this year) and worked Neal Deiters into the right guard role. They exceeded every set of expectations.

Why worry? Fitz wonders that every time someone asks.

"This is a recurring theme… If you look at our track record up front, we've been pretty good."

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