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

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Northwestern will have presence in 2010 NFL Draft

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Tonight and tomorrow figure to be to the most intriguing portions of the NFL Draft for Northwestern fans. DE Corey Wootton has been projected as an early-mid second rounder in most NFL mock drafts, and  QB Mike Kafka projects as a 3rd-5th rounder.

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Northwestern Named Fiesta Bowl Team of the Week

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By Paul M. Banks

From the Football Writers Association of America press release

DALLAS (FWAA) – With their 17-10 win at No. 4 Iowa, the Northwestern Wildcats (6-4) are the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl National Team of the Week for games of the weekend of Nov. 7, as chosen by the board of the Football Writers Association of America. Trailing 10-0, the Wildcats forced four second-quarter turnovers to ignite the rally. Corey Wootton sacked Iowa’s Ricky Stanzi and forced a fumble that was recovered for a touchdown by Marshall Thomas to put Northwestern on the board. Stanzi was injured on the play and did not return to the game.

On Iowa’s next possession, a Quentin Davie interception led to the go-ahead score. Drake Dunsmore caught a 4-yard touchdown pass to cap the drive and give the Wildcats a lead they would not relinquish. The win was Northwestern’s third straight in Iowa City and ended Iowa’s 13-game winning streak.

“We fully expected if we could put together 60 minutes of Wildcat football together in all three phases we’d have an opportunity to compete,” Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald said after the game. “And, to our young men’s credit, we did.”

Other Tostitos Fiesta Bowl Bowl National Team of the Week nominees for the weekend of Nov. 7 included:

Navy (7-3): Ricky Dobbs threw a touchdown pass and ran for another as the Midshipmen upset No. 19 Notre Dame, 23-21, in South Bend. The win secured a Texas Bowl berth for the Midshipmen.
Stanford (6-3): Toby Gerhart ran for a school-record 223 yards and three touchdowns as the Cardinal stunned No. 7 Oregon, 51-42.

DE Corey Coreysaurus Wootton leads Northwestern’s Defense

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By Paul M. Banks

In 2008, Northwestern finished just one win shy of the school record. They found success primarily because of their defense, as the ’Cats set a single-season defensive rushing record, holding their foes to 126.4 yards per game. Ahead of the previous school record from the Wildcats’ mythical 1995 Rose Bowl season. Newly installed defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz brought in a new attacking-style defense, and the aggressive style paid off as NU recorded a Big Ten-best 34 sacks, 18th-best in the country.

Playboy Preseason All-America Defensive End Corey Wootton led the way with 16.0 TFL’s and 10.0 sacks. He enters his final season ranked fifth on NU’s career list for TFL’s (16) and fourth on NU’s career list for pass sacks (15.5). “Coreysaurus” Wootton also enters Saturday’s season opener against Towson on the watch lists for the Hendricks, Bednarik, Nagurski, Lott and Lombardi Trophy. The 6’7” Wootton explained to me how he got that moniker:

“I got dubbed that nickname from a teammate of mine that just graduated, Todd Dockery cuz of my long neck. I used to be real thin when I was a freshman. Since then he’s always called me “Coreysaurus.” Excuse me for not having a Coreysaurus graphic from PhotoShop. Although a picture of the Coreysaurus Rex stomping on opposing QBs is something the NU marketing department should seriously look into making and distributing. I also asked Wooton about his height affecting his game:tyrannosaurus

“It works to my advantage having a long wingspan, the height, being able to get my hands into the passing lanes, leverage and separation from people. But at the same time it can be a disadvantage. You’re more of a target o get cut {blocked underneath by opponents} things of that nature,” he stated. I brought up how his long arms helped disrupt the passing lanes of Missouri’s Chase Daniel, a 5’10” quarterback, in last year’s Alamo Bowl.

“When you have a shorter quarterback, the angle that they’re projecting the ball isn’t going to be as high as someone who’s 6’4”, 6’5.” You just got to get your hands into the passing lanes a lot and hopefully bat it down,” he responded.

Wotton is tabbed a first-team All-Big Ten preseason selection by Lindy’s, Athlon Sports, Phil Steele’s and Sporting News.  He’s got his eyes set on improving a few things to live up to that. “Working on my second and third moves, I feel like I have a pretty decent first move, but working on that second move, that counter, improving aspects of my footwork, run defense, and all that I’ll continue to work on though the season,” Wootton said. Last year, he set the bar high, so he’ll need a really big year to top it.

He was voted first-team All-Big Ten by conference coaches and the team’s Most Valuable Player. For the second season in his career, he recorded a statistic in every major defensive category (tackles, TFL’s, sacks, pass deflections, interceptions, forced fumbles, fumble recoveries, QB hurries and blocked kicks).

Moving forward, I asked Corey who he thought the best player comparison for his game would be “It would be cool if they said the next Julius Peppers. He’s a tremendous player, a tremendous athlete, we have kind of similar size. One day I hope to even touch the waters of what he is, a truly tremendous a player,” Corey answered.

I then mentioned how rare it was for a defensive player to receive Heisman votes, and Peppers actually finished in the top 10 in 2001 voting. “It’s expected for mostly offensive players, quarterbacks, wide receivers, running backs to get those awards, but when you get recognized for that, especially at defensive end, a position that’s not as highly publicized as other positions, it’s a great honor and it shows what a legacy he left. Not only at North Carolina, but in college football,” He replied. It’s true that DEs don’t often get the pub, but perhaps that’s changing?

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“Defensive ends get publicized more than interior linemen and offensive lineman probably because they’re the pretty version of a lineman. You stand up sometimes, you’re on the edge. They’re a little leaner. So they’re publicized, but not as much as linebackers and defensive backs. The game has changed so much over recent years. Julius Peppers was a freak of nature back then and now you’re seeing guys who have tremendous size and athleticism everywhere,” Wooton said.