No. 122: Damien Proby, #46, LB, Northwestern
2011 Stats: 60 tackles (34 solo), three tackles-for-loss, one sack, one forced fumble
Northwestern's defense is gradually but substantially getting faster. That speed movement is personified by Damien Proby, a junior-to-be who took over at middle linebacker mid-season in 2011 and has the position locked up. Coaches praised Proby for his pre-snap adjustments and ability to play with physicality. Those aspects are why Pat Fitzgerald moved his former outside linebacker into the middle of the field.
Northwestern's rush defense was flatly bad before Proby replaced senior leader Bryce McNaul at MLB, and it didn't really improve afterwards. In Proby's seven starts, the Wildcats allowed 182 rush yards per game, up from their season total of 177 per. Granted, Northwestern stifled a great Nebraska rushing game behind Proby's 10 tackles, two tackles-for-loss, and one sack on the afternoon, but for the most part he's not a difference-maker there yet.
It also doesn't help matters that Proby missed the spring practices to injury. He'll be back for fall.
Proby was seventh on the Wildcats in tackles with 60 despite playing sparingly in the first six games. That tackle total will rise substantially with a full season at MLB, to the point that as he grows into the position, a 100-tackle year is totally in play. Proby is one of several defenders that Northwestern will need to see improvement from if that Wildcat defense is going to take the next step toward respectability -- and the ever-elusive bowl win.