The Northwestern head coach recently said that he'd prefer to avoid rotating linemen, making his decision all the more important for a unit that needed to replace three starters.
These five entered training camp as the "ones" and played virtually every first-team rep from that point forward. Matt Frazier made the most convincing case for playing time, but this group appeared set—regardless of the typical "coach speak."
They locked down their positions with strong chemistry, and each starter appears comfortable in this alignment. Many questions surrounded the group, and most appear unfounded.
Why? As Fitzgerald says repeatedly, the staff continues to recruit well and fill the voids left by departing starters. They picked up highly regarded prospects Mogus and Park in successive years, easing the guard transition from last season.
Even their bench looks solid. Should anyone struggle or get injured, Frazier, Adam DePietro and others can step in effectively. O-line play looked like one potential weakness; it could end up as one of the team's strengths.
It's nice to see conviction and certainty from the staff here. They obviously have the best gauge of who can play, and all three of the new starters are ready to pick up the slack.
Fitzgerald still needs to sort out other position battles. Chance Carter and Will Hampton vie for the second defensive tackle starting spot. Collin Ellis and Drew Smith are looking to earn the third linebacker role. Dean Lowry, Deonte Gibson or even redshirt freshman Ifeadi Odenigbo could start opposite Tyler Scott.
Everything will be sorted out by the Cal game. For NU's offensive line, clarity arrived rather quickly.