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Ibraheim Campbell, Northwestern’s DBs thinking big

Updated: September 10, 2013 6:39AM



Discussing his philosophy on pass defense, Northwestern safety Ibraheim Campbell’s sounds as if he’s teetering between being a ­maverick and being reckless.

Asked what he thought could ­improve the Wildcats’ pass defense, which ranked last in the Big Ten last season, the hard-hitting junior said the team needs to make more big plays and create turnovers. Often a player willing to try those types of plays is one more likely to blow assignments. But Campbell understands the importance of being judicious in taking those chances.

‘‘The biggest thing when it comes to that is taking those chances in camp and seeing what you can get away with and realizing what your limitations are in order to exercise those [big-play] abilities during the season,’’ Campbell said.

Creating turnovers is just part of the remedy. Last season, the Wildcats showed flashes of solid defensive play. But the timing of their ­mistakes cost them. Among the most important things for the secondary to focus on are limiting big plays and keeping ball carriers in front of them, cornerback Nick VanHoose said.

The coaching staff seems to agree. Every day this week, the ­defensive backs have been drilled specifically on pursuing a runner. The drill emphasizes the need to maintain an angle on the ball carrier’s inside hip, which prevents him from cutting back inside.

During position-specific drills Thursday, coach Pat Fitzgerald spent most of his time working with the defensive backs on speed.

‘‘We’ve worked hard to ­improve our team speed defensively,’’ Fitzgerald said. ‘‘What we’ve now been able to do is build size to go along with that speed, and hopefully we’ll be able to continue to do that as we have success.’’

Email: sgruen@suntimes.com

Twitter: @SethGruen



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