Preseason Breakdown: Offensive Line

Our position breakdowns continue with an evaluation of the offensive line situation heading into week one.

They entered fall camp with one happy starting unit of five: Jack Konopka (13 starts), Geoff Mogus (zero), Brandon Vitabile (26), Ian Park (zero) and Paul Jorgensen (one plus one receiving touchdown).

This led to me "prematurely" (cough) list the inexperienced three as "frontrunners" for the starting position. They looked best, and despite the coach speak, Pat Fitzgerald so obviously entered fall camp with those five in mind.

Another thing is this: The coaching staff has a sample size much larger than training camp. They've evaluated guys like Mogus and Park from the moment they arrived on campus, and watched spring practice long enough to leave with some plan.

It's the culmination of excellent recruiting. They lose Brian Mulroe, Patrick Ward and Neal Deiters but replace them with talented young players who can fill the void.

Adam DePietro–one of the top-rated prospects in recent NU history–will begin 2013 on the bench. He and Matt Frazier look capable of holding their ground for NU, but I expect the current five to work just fine.

It was an unfounded concern heading into training camp. There wasn't even any position battle drama as linebackers and defensive ends duked it out for increased reps. The first team stayed consistent—a testament to the work of O-line coach Adam Cushing.

If anything, the second team (including Frazier, DePietro, Shane Mertz, Eric Olson and Hayden Baker) appeared out of sorts and clearly lacked the same chemistry. I don't doubt the personnel decisions. I also don't doubt that the Northwestern offensive line could very feasibly match its performance from last season.

It comes down to recruiting, selection and execution. The group–led by a gem in the form of Vitabile–consistently recovered from any practice mishaps and turned in strong outings.

Once the real contact began, it was clear that the group worked well together. They sat out from the Kenosha scrimmage, leading to some premature but astute reports that the starting five was set. Yes, Fitzgerald talked about "switching" guys in and out, but you can cut through the (understandably) diplomatic discussion and realize that this was the general plan. It went exactly as it should.

Park looked terrific at right guard, joining Daniel Jones among the "surprise stars" from training camp. Mogus played like the tank we all expected him to be. Jorgensen, who can even act as the short-yardage tight end, locked down the right tackle position with relative ease.

Konopka, meanwhile, provides additional optimism. The former superback settled into a starter's role last season. With a talented group of four that took shape around its leader, NU can hope for health and consistency. It's not too much to ask.

Depth Chart

LT— Jack Konopka, Shane Mertz
LG— Geoff Mogus, Adam DePietro
C— Brandon Vitabile, Matt Frazier
RG— Ian Park, Hayden Baker
RT— Paul Jorgensen, Eric Olson


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