While the offense of the Northwestern Wildcats football team has had its ups and downs in recent seasons, the defense has remained consistent for the most part. Which makes sense considering that head coach Pat Fitzgerald was a two-time All-American (1995, '96) linebacker during his days as a Wildcat. For the 2020 season, the Wildcats will have yet another tough and hard-nosed defense on the field. Here are five players that will stand out on this side of the ball for NU.
Paddy Fisher, LB
He's evolved into the leader of this Wildcat defense and is looking to put the final stamp on his NU career this season. Fisher was tied for the team lead in tackles (88) last year, and he also was credited with six tackles for a loss, three pass deflections, and an interception. Fisher's ability to throw his body all over the field is what makes him so dangerous, and he's ready to be an offense's nightmare again in 2020.
Blake Gallagher, LB
Fisher's right-hand man on the field, Gallagher shared the team lead in tackles last season. Like Fisher, Gallagher is a tackling machine who is almost unblockable. How fitting that he wears his head coach's old jersey number (51). This defense starts and ends with both of these players, and when they are successful, this unit is successful.
Earnest Brown IV, DE
Brown is looking to pick up where Joe Gaziano left off. The senior already has 39 tackles, 10 TFLs, six sacks, five pass deflections, two forced fumbles, and a defensive touchdown on his resume. And with Gaziano fighting for an NFL roster spot, Brown will have to step up as the leader of Northwestern's front four. If he can make the defensive line more dangerous, then the rest of the defense will benefit.
JR Pace and Cameron Ruiz, DBs
These two combined for 86 tackles, three tackles for a loss, two interceptions, and nine pass deflections in 2019. They'll be tasked once again with anchoring the back end of Northwestern's defense. A slight increase in production could make them one of the Big Ten's top secondary duos this season.
— Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He's a co-host of The Rewind Sports: 60. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.