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NU’s D-line vows to make amends for 2011’s woeful pass rush

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Updated: September 9, 2012 6:24AM

There isn’t a group of players on the Northwestern football team more anxious to get on the field than the defensive linemen.

Odds are that’s probably because last season, they were barely noticeable.

The Wildcats managed only 17 sacks in 2011, including only 11.5 from the front four. The lack of a pass rush only served to exacerbate coverage problems in the secondary.

Despite having played only parts of last season while dealing with a foot injury, defensive lineman Brian Arnfelt is still ashamed to talk about it.

“Last year’s numbers are tough to take. It’s kind of a slap in the face,” Arnfelt said.

“That’s not enough. We’ve got to get more pressure on the quarterback and we got to produce better in the run game. We’ve got to get more [tackles for loss] and we’ve got to get more stout up front. We can never be satisfied with what we did last year.”

Though Northwestern’s defensive problems may have started with its line, they ended in the secondary.

The Wildcats freely admit that they were plagued with problems communicating in the secondary. It was apparent at Illinois and against Michigan.

Northwestern blew an 18-point third-quarter lead against the Illini, allowing A.J. Jenkins to make 12 catches for 268 yards and three touchdowns. A week later, Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson threw for 337 yards and two touchdowns despite an abysmal first half.

Only two days into training camp, Northwestern has taken steps to ensure its defensive backfield is cohesive.

Coaches have made workouts more complicated and have only explained them to a few players, forcing them to teach the exercises to the rest of the team.

Already, redshirt sophomore safety Ibraheim Campbell, the most experienced defensive back, has seen it pay dividends.

“We have all the potential in the world,” Campbell said. “I don’t really see a limit because we have a lot of potential. So if we put it together correctly, we can go pretty far.”

Head coach Pat Fitzgerald has been measured in setting standards for where he expects his team to be by week’s end. But that only gives credence to the optimism he expressed.

“If you look at the life of this team, we’re kind of middle-aged right now and then we get old real fast,” Fitzgerald said. “Hopefully as we age, we age gracefully, and we get into old age there in November where we’ve got something significant to play for.”

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