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Northwestern’s defense planning some corrective measures

Taylor Martinez Damien Proby QuentWilliams

Taylor Martinez, Damien Proby, Quentin Williams

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Updated: August 4, 2013 10:19PM

Every January after the bowl season ends, Pat Fitzgerald’s team starts from scratch. The Northwestern coach didn’t waver from that paradigm this offseason, even with 15 starters returning after a Gator Bowl victory on New Year’s Day.

But the seven returning defensive starters are still using the mistakes of last season as motivation when they open camp Monday.

‘‘[Returning so many players] is something that we’re lucky to have as a program, and we’re happy to have it, embrace it,’’ said senior linebacker Damien Proby, who led the team with 112 tackles last season. ‘‘But we’re by no means satisfied with last year’s results. So we’re looking to build upon it.’’

Proby is referring to an up-and-down 2012 season defensively. The Wildcats ranked third in the Big Ten in run defense, allowing 127.6 yards per game. But they were last in pass defense, allowing 250.5 yards per game.

While that alone might be enough to motivate them this season, their biggest gripe with last year isn’t something they’ll parse in statistics — it was their inconsistent ability to finish games.

‘‘When you know you can stop the game and hold it from there without letting the other team score, that’s huge,’’ senior defensive end Tyler Scott said. ‘‘And as a leader, that’s something that you want. You want your defense . . . to make that play and not let your offense go back out there and have to close out a game for you. It’s always great when our offense goes out there and can take a knee.

“There were so many times that we just needed to make one more play, and we’ve really focused on that through the offseason and really getting mentally tough.’’

Improved focus is the general remedy, but Proby said players must be conscious of their individual assignments to keep the defense from breaking down. A desire to make big plays sometimes can cause a player to lose focus of his primary responsibility.

‘‘You come and compete at this level at a Big Ten university for the fact of making plays and being on the field to be able to show your talent,’’ Proby said. ‘‘But it comes down to it’s a team sport. Sometimes when it gets out of hand in terms of someone taking it into their own personal perspective or their own personal initiatives over the team’s, we as teammates are there to remind them of that.’’

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