Northwestern Secondary Preview

WNUR’s Tralon Williams (@itsyaboytray) previews the Northwestern Wildcats secondary and tells why fans should have optimism about the unit heading into the season.

Photo by John J. Kim / Chicago Tribune

Photo by John J. Kim / Chicago Tribune

Coming into the 2012 season, there was a high amount of optimism but one unit seemed to scare the living daylights out of every Northwestern fan: the secondary. Our fears were confirmed the first week of the season when the Cardiac Cats gave away a three-touchdown lead and narrowly escaped Syracuse with a 42-41 win. In that game, as many remember, Ryan Nassib torched the Cats for 482 yards and 4 TDS.

However, after that game, the secondary stepped their game up. Though they got beat occasionally, they were not the disaster many were expecting, despite faltering down the stretch in each of the three Northwestern losses (Somewhere, Roy Roundtree is still amazed he caught that ball). This was highlighted by the dazzling play of S Ibraheim Campbell and the surprising coverage ability of CB Nick VanHoose.

Coming into the 2013 season, the secondary has expectations that far exceed what they had at this time last season. They are no longer expected to simply not be a liability, but to be a force on the defense. And so far, we have no reason to think it won’t be just that.

Campbell is back and his play is getting him attention from college football fans and writers across the country. He been named to several preseason All-Big Ten teams and even found himself on the 48 man Jim Thorpe Award watch list, given annually to the nation’s top defensive back.

Opposite Campbell, the graduation of Jared Carpenter, the MVP of the Gator bowl, opens the doors for Traveon Henry and Jimmy Hall to compete for the spot. Coming out of spring ball, Henry was said to have the advantage for the starting spot but the consensus is that both players will see significant time on the field in 2013. Opening day starter of last season Davion Fleming (who was later replaced by Carpenter) will backup Campbell.

The real question for this secondary is with the cornerbacks. VanHoose will without a doubt be #1 on the depth chart at this position, but the team needs him to stay healthy. He missed three games in the 2012 season and missed much of the spring with a shoulder injury. If he can stay healthy, he will contend with the likes of Bradley Roby and Darqueze Dennard for top CB in the Big Ten.

But who will play the other corner spot? In 2012, the Cats had veteran experience in Demetrius Dugar and Quinn Evans to play in those spots (And take over for Vanhoose following injury). This year, Evans and Dugar are gone and the #2 CB spot is totally up for grabs. Coming into fall camp, there was a three-way competition for the spot between CJ Bryant, Daniel Jones, and Dwight White. Jones has started games in the past, while White (like Vanhoose last year) is fresh off of his redshirt season, and Bryant is seen as an up-and-comer by the entire coaching staff. It’s unlikely that this competition is finalized before the week of the Cal game, but regardless of who starts, all 3 will see plenty of action over the course of this season.

When the defense opens up at Cal, I expect the starters to be Vanhoose, Jones (because of previous experience), Campbell and Henry. What I am most interested to see is who will be the first of the other two corners (White and Bryant) to come off of the bench to spell Jones. Regardless, the secondary has a lot of reasons to have fans excited. Fleming is the only senior expected to get playing time in the secondary this season and the unit gave up 6.6 yards per attempt in 2012, after a Big Ten worst 8.5 yards per attempt the year before. The unit is young, freakishly talented and constantly improving. Should they all stay healthy, Northwestern will have a formidable secondary not just for 2013, but for the foreseeable future.

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