Northwestern Rebuilds D Line after Loss of Wootton

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When Northwestern takes the field Saturday night at Vanderbilt they’ll do so without Corey Wootton, who’s now graduated and moved on to the Chicago Bears. The stud defensive end was a key player for the Cats for four years, and one of the most dominant defensive linemen in the program’s history. But life goes on in 2010, and the adjustment won’t be as difficult as one might think. Wootton was not really himself until late in the 2009 season, and we really didn’t see much of him at all in the first few games of the season. Or at least we didn’t see the Coreysaurus that everyone with Purple Pride knew and loved.

So this unit has learned to survive and thrive without him for an extended period already, and the front seven should be a source of strength for the Cats in 2010.

By Paul M. Banks

Leading the way is senior defensive tackle Corbin Bryant, a 6-4, 300 pound co-captain (pictured here twice at Big Ten Media Day). He’ll be backed up by the 310 pound Niko Mafuli.

Bryant talked about the depth at this position, and on the d line in general. “It’s due to the recruiting that Pat Fitzgerald does, and we help out with…it’s going to push people in camp because you got somebody right on your back, who can take your spot the next day, so guys really can’t get comfortable,” Bryant said.

Bryant is a solid pass rusher, who anchors well against the run and finds himself working on improving his footwork. At Media Day we talked about how we both admired Deion Sanders when we were children. Bryant laughed when I brought up Deion’s rap album.

(Watch below for some early ’90s pablum/unintentional comedy).

(Yes, I have been waiting a long time to have an excuse to embed that video.)

But today it’s the Bears’ Tommie Harris that Bryant looks up to. “I try to watch the game week in and week out to see what he does to get to the QB,” he said.

“He’s a two-year starter, this is the healthiest he’s been since ’08, he feels great, he looks better,” Defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz said of Bryant.

Joining him on the defensive front is Vince Browne, who made Athlon’s preseason All-Big Ten third team and Phil Steele’s all-conference fourth team. Kevin Watt will start at the other DE position, Wootton’s old post.

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

You can follow him on Twitter @thesportsbank and @bigtenguru

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