Northwestern’s most talented player in 2010? OT Patrick Ward



Last year, Northwestern’s running game was so below par that it inspired Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald, on one occasion, to utter obscenities in front of the media. It wasn’t so much the running backs themselves, but the offensive line. You might recall Fitz’s “I don’t give a sh** who plays” soundbite, in response to the front seven’s lack of run-blocking during the middle of the 2009 campaign.

But this year, things should be a LOT different. The Offensive Line is returning all five starters; and two of them have lost their starting positions.

That’s the thing about this time of year- lots of programs boast of returning starters, and the experience they bring. And that can be good news or bad news, depending on the situation. However, if you’ve found better players than who you had starting last fall…now you’re on to something.

And NU’s OL should really improve, led by starting Right Tackle Patrick Ward, the highest rated Wildcat recruit in years.

By Paul M. Banks

“Overall I think we’ve really progressed. We’ve been able to improve running the ball and we’ll be a good unit,” Ward told me after the conclusion of spring practice.

Ward, a 6-6, 295 lbs OT from Providence Catholic high school in New Lenox, IL  is just the second four-star recruit the Cats have bagged in the 2000s. The jewel of the ’08 recruiting class, he choose NU over numerous teams including: Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan State, Stanford and Missouri.

“It felt like home, every time I came here I felt like this was the place I wanted to be,” Ward said about why he choose to play his college ball in Evanston.

Ward was an exceptional student, and he’s also a very smart football player. His intelligence is the perfect complement to his size and strength. He red-shirted last season, but will find himself on the first unit Sept 4th versus Vanderbilt. He’ll be joined by sophomore Right Guard Neal Dieters, junior Center Ben Burkett, sophomore Left Guard Brian Mulroe and junior Left Tackle (another stellar prospect) Al Netter. Two of last year’s starters, Keegan Grant and Doug Bartels are ready to fill in if someone goes down.

Ward also talked to me about his blocking role models.

“You look at all the All-Pro Big Ten Tackles, especially the past couple of years: Joe Thomas, Jake Long, watching them and seeing what they did. And in the past Jonathan Ogden, Walter Jones, those are the guys I aspire to be like,” Ward said.blind side

Two tackles went in the top ten of the NFL Draft this past April.

“It’s clear it’s an important position on the field, you gotta protect your QB,” Ward said.

Then we got into a discussion about the story of newly famous Baltimore Ravens Left Tackle Michael Oher; “The Blind Side,” the Michael Lewis book made into a Sandra Bullock Film.

“I read the book, then saw the film, really enjoyed it. It truly showed how important the position is, and how much emphasis the game puts on it,” Ward said.

So I had to ask him if he liked the book or the movie better?

“i like the book better id say because it included some other parts abt the devleopment of the LT as a specialty position going tbakc to lawrence taylor and with how the entire game changed with that type of player rushing off the edge,” he replied.

Written by Paul M. Banks, President and CEO of The Sports , a Midwest focused webzine. He is also a regular contributor to Chicago Now, the Chicago Tribune’s blog network, Walter, the Washington Times Communities, Yardbarker Network, and Fox

You can follow him on Twitter @thesportsbank and @bigtenguru

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