April 2, 2008

Back to basics

Mike Hankwitz's office on the second floor of the Nicolet Center is rather Spartan as work spaces go. There are a few generic Northwestern football snapshots on the wall, but his desk and the rest of the room are free of any personal affects. He's worked in this office since he was hired as the Wildcats' new defensive coordinator in January, but it's fair to say that he has yet to make it his.

The same can be said of Northwestern's defense. Hankwitz has studied it on film and developed it on paper, but he has just begun to coach his players on the field. In essence, he has yet to make the defense his.

Northwestern fans are looking forward to Hankwitz putting his imprint on a defense that has been the program's Achilles heel in recent years. As good as the Wildcats' spread offense has been since they unleashed it on the Big Ten in 2000, their defense has been equally as bad, perhaps even more so. In six years under previous defensive coordinator Greg Colby, for instance, Northwestern allowed more than 28 points per game four times and bottomed out in 2005, when the Wildcats finished 117th out of 117 Division I (now FCS) teams in total defense.

But those that are looking for Hankwitz to administer a magic drug to cure the Wildcats' ills had better think again. It won't be a new formation or cutting-edge system that will make Northwestern successful on defense. According to Hankwitz, it will be fundamentals and execution that will lead the Wildcats back to respectability. And those are the things on which he will focus in his first spring practice in Evanston, which kicked off yesterday.

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