2011 Purdue Preview – Defense
Purdue SS Logan Link
CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - Purdue Boilermaker Defense
Preview 2011 - Defense
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What You Need To Know:
Defensive coordinator Gary Emanuel did a good job last year, and now he has the tools to make his defense a rock. The loss of star DE Ryan Kerrigan is a problem, but there are several interesting options ready to form a decent rotation around a fantastic young tackle tandem of Kawann Short and Bruce Gaston. The linebacking corps is full of athletic veterans with Dwayne Beckford about to take a big leap up in production and limelight with the ability and potential to get into the backfield if turned loose. The secondary struggled mightily against the pass last year, but everyone is back including leading tackler Logan Link and good-looking young corners Josh Johnson and Ricardo Allen.
Star of the defense: Junior DT Kawann Short
Tackles: Logan Link, 91
Sacks: Kawann Short, 6
Interceptions: Ricardo Allen, 3
Player who has to step up and be a star: Senior DE Gerald Gooden
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore CB Ricardo Allen
Best pro prospect: Short
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Short, 2) DT Bruce Gaston, 3) LB Dwayne Beckford
Strength of the defense: Tackles, Experience
Weakness of the defense: No Ryan Kerrigan, Pass Defense
State of the Unit: The defense is loaded with returning talent and veterans across the board, but there's one big piece missing. Purdue always comes up with dangerous pass rushers, but Ryan Kerrigan was a special playmaker with 12.5 sacks and 26 tackles for loss last year as the Boilermakers finished 14th in the nation in sacks and fourth in tackles for loss; leading the Big Ten in both categories. The returning defensive front will miss its star, but it still returns full of talent and enough in the bag to come up with a strong season.
With Kerrigan gone, the star of the line is Kawann Short, a 6-3, 305-pound interior pass rusher of a defensive tackle and one of the best all around linemen in the Big Ten. A dominator in practices before last season began, he lived up to the hype with 41 tackles, six sacks, and 12.5 tackles for loss while also batting down eight passes. Despite being overshadowed by Kerrigan, he still came up with Second Team All-Big Ten honors and now should take another step up. He destroyed Illinois last year (as much as he could in a 44-10 loss) and he was terrific in the opener against Notre Dame, but his production tailed off over the last month of the year. Even so, the tools and the measureables are in place to be great.
Next to Short will once again be Bruce Gaston, a good-looking 6-2, 300-pound true sophomore who came up with 26 tackles in his first season. One of the team's top recruits, he played like it right away and showed off a little bit of the quickness and toughness that should make him an anchor of the line once he puts it all together. Like Short, Gaston has NFL upside and will get a few years to grow into a bigger role.
6-3, 235-pound senior Gerald Goodendidn't exactly take full advantage of being on the other side of Kerrigan, but he wasn't bad with 35 tackles with 1.5 sacks and four tackles for loss. A top recruit and a great athlete with an elite burst, the former linebacker hasn't lived up to the original hype or potential, and now the pressure is on to be the type of No. 1 pass rusher who can replace Kerrigan. But who's going to step in for No. 94?
The line has a few good prospects waiting in the wings to try to be the next Kerrigan with 6-3, 260-pound senior Adam Brockman getting a chance after serving as a prime backup. The former Eastern Michigan transfer and walk-on is mostly a special teamer and only made one tackle. Also pushing for time is Robert Maci, a 6-4, 241-pound junior who was a decent part of the rotation making 17 tackles with a pick. However, for a top pass rushing prospect, he didn't do much to get into the backfield with no sacks and two tackles for loss.
There's a drop-off in beef from the starters to the backup defensive tackles, but 6-1, 273-pound Brandon Taylor and 6-5, 260-pound Ryan Isaac are promising. Isaac, a true sophomore, has the frame to get bigger, but his worth will be as an interior pass rusher in a rotation with Gaston after making seven tackles and a sack in a limited role. Taylor, out of Miami, is a good athlete on the interior and showed off a little bit with four tackles and a sack. Now both will be a much bigger part of the equation along with JUCO transfer Jalani Phillips, a 6-3, 210-pound pure pass rusher who'll be a specialist on the outside right away.
Watch Out For … Gooden. He's way, WAY overdue to become a dangerous pass rusher. The skills and the athleticism are there, but he has to be able to use everything to start being more disruptive. He has been good, but now he has to be great as long as he's healthy. He has issues with a sports hernia in spring ball.
Strength: The tackles. If you want to know who'll pick up the slack after the loss of Kerrigan, here it is with Short and Gaston two fringe-NFL prospects who can get into the backfield. If these two progress as expected, the Boilermakers will have a dominant pair to work around for the next few years.
Weakness: Good running teams. The run defense was fine for the most part last year, but it was consistently mediocre. While it didn't get gouged by Wisconsin or Illinois or Ohio State, the run D didn't exactly put up a brick wall. The veteran group has to do even more against the run and not always rely on the big play to get by.
Outlook: Just how much did Kerrigan really mean to the line? He might have been the best defensive player in the conference last year, but the rest of the starters were hardly along for the ride. The sack and tackle for loss totals can't help but take a dip, but there's enough young talent and enough promise and potential in the backups to hope for a strong all-around season.
Unit Rating: 7
State of the Unit: The potential is there to be terrific. Last year's linebacking corps was good, even though it wasn't exactly star-studded, but the payoff came after several young players took their lumps in 2009. Now, strongside starter Jason Werner is gone but everyone else of note returns to what should be a fast, disruptive group.
The best of the still-emerging lot is 6-1, 228-pound junior Dwayne Beckford in the middle. A superstar high school pass rusher, he has grown into a tackling machine who fulfilled his promise and potential as a stat-sheet filler finishing second on the team with 84 tackles with 3.5 tackles for loss. While he didn't do too much to get into the backfield, he didn't have to with Ryan Kerrigan and the line getting the job done. This year, with his experience and athleticism, he'll get far more freelance time to try to make things happen. Looking for time in the middle rotation will be 6-2, 226-pound senior Chris Carlino, a former starter who finished fourth on the team in 2009 with 71 stops. A runner-up for Indiana's Mr. Football, he's a talented and experienced veteran who could step in whenever needed, but only made 15 tackles last year as a backup.
Back on the weakside will be Joe Holland, a former safety who used his speed and athleticism to follow up an 81 tackle 2009 season with 73 stops and 7.5 tackles for loss. While only 6-1 and 225 pounds, the senior is smart, moves well, and is always around the ball. He has the burst to do more and be used as a pass rusher, but he has been sound as is over the last few seasons. True sophomore Will Lucas got to school early last year and it paid off with 43 tackles with three tackles for loss. The 5-11, 226-pounder will be used where needed on the outside, but he's best suited for the weakside where he's better in space.
The one loss is Werner, and while he did a little of everything for the linebacking corps and could get into the backfield as easily as he could make plays against the pass, he can be replaced. Getting a long look on the strongside, along with Lucas, will be 6-2, 220-pound senior DeVarro Greaves, a special teamer who saw a little time on defense making six tackles and two tackles for loss. A fast outside linebacker, he has the potential to be a big performer if he can get and hold down the job. However, he'll have to battle with true freshman Armstead Williams, a pure outside linebacker who always worked as a running back in high school. While he needs work, the raw skills are there to be in the rotation from the start.
Watch Out For … Beckford. It's always hard to get the limelight as a linebacker in the Big Ten, but Beckford has the résumé and the talent to go from being an Honorable Mention All-Big Ten performer to one of the league's signature defensive stars. However, as solid as he might be, the recognition will only come with more big plays behind the line.
Strength: Experience. This was a baby-young group in 2009, was full of veterans last year, and now it's loaded with tacklers who have seen and done it all. Holland, Beckford, Carlino and Lucas aren't going to be fazed by anything thrown their way.
Weakness: Beef. Everyone can tackle and everyone is physical, but this is mostly a corps full of undersized linebackers and pumped up safeties. That's sort of by design and it wasn't a huge problem against the more physical teams, but it'd be nice to have a 250-pound thumper.
Outlook: If the defensive line plays as expected and keeps the athletic linebackers clean, the stats should be fantastic. There might not be any one signature star, but the unit will be rock-solid with plenty of smart, tough veterans who make plenty of big plays. It's not a stretch to call this the team's best linebacking corps in years.
Unit Rating: 8
State of the Unit: The good: everyone is back. The bad: the secondary stunk. Despite benefitting from one of the nation's top pass rushes, the secondary got torched by just about anyone who could throw a forward pass allowing 231 yards per game. The positive, again, is the experience factor, and the problems of last year weren't unexpected with all four starters needing to be replaced.
While the secondary struggled when the ball was in the air, strong safety Logan Link didn't have any problems against the run with a team-leading 91 tackles with an interception and three broken up passes. At 6-1 and 204 pounds he has decent size and he's a huge hitter who can play either safety spot. While he's a former walk-on, he plays with the same kind of fire when it comes to stopping the run. However, he's limited when the ball is in the air.
6-0, 206-pound senior Albert Evans started out last season getting a look at strong safety before moving over to the free safety slot. He was fine, making 37 tackles with two sacks, but he only came up with one pick and broke up two passes. The former JUCO transfer was a high school wide receiver, but he came to Purdue as a smallish linebacker. The problem has been that he often covers like one, but he has just enough skills to make strides and become a bigger playmaker.
The corners took their lumps, but they have the potential to be special with a little more time. 5-9, 175-pound Ricardo Allen was only a freshman and was thrown into the fire. He came through just fine finishing third on the team with 73 tackles to go along with a team-leading three interceptions. While he's not all that big, he's extremely physical and could play safety if absolutely needed. On the other side is junior Josh Johnson, a 5-11, 191-pound former wide receiver who's just now coming into his own as a corner. He had his moments last year with six broken up passes and 53 tackles, and while he might not be the hitter that Allen is, he doesn't shy away from contact.
All the top backups return including senior Charlton Williams, a 6-2, 197-pound veteran who has the size, speed, and skills to do far more than just be a decent special teamer. He has corner skills in the body of a safety, and he can be used in a variety of ways making 21 tackles with a sack last year. However, he didn't break up any passes.
With Normando Harris, who made 11 tackles last year, moving to receiver, there will be more openings for playing time throughout the secondary. 5-11, 185-pound junior Chris Quinn was expected to make a big splash, but he only came up with four tackles. A great prospect who flew under the radar after getting hurt in his senior year of high school, he's an elite athlete with 10.8 100-meter time and tremendous leaping ability; he plays bigger than his size. 6-0, 190-pound senior Max Charlot came in from Fullerton College and saw time right away making 12 tackles with a pick. He can play either safety spot and could push for starting time depending on the scheme and the matchup.
Watch Out For … a big jump in plays made by the corners. Allen and Johnson are too fast and too good to have so many problems against the decent Big Ten receivers. Allen did his part with three picks, but they can both do even more. The less they have to do against the run, the better.
Strength: Experience. That the coaching staff had no problems moving Normando Harris over to the offensive side shows just how stocked the shelves are. Allen and Johnson aren't just going to be factors this year, but they'll be around for a while. The top backups know what they're doing.
Weakness: Big plays. Northwestern, Ohio State, and Indiana all threw for more than 300 yards and gave up two touchdown passes or more in six of the last nine games. There were six games without a pick and eight of the team's ten interceptions came in four games.
Outlook: Will time mean more from the secondary? It's not a big group and it's not full of high-end talent, but everyone can tackle and everyone can get physical. However, for the season to be a success, the gap between the 23 touchdown passes allowed and ten picks have to be closed.
Unit Rating: 6
State of the Unit: The Purdue kicking game wasn't anything special, but it looked great compared to the coverage teams. There were several problems on both sides of the ball and the special teams needs more pop. The key, though, is getting back Carson Wiggs, a decent senior who hit 15-of-19 field goals and connected on a 52-yarder against Michigan State. While he missed a few layups, he nailed his last eight shots and can be relied on from anywhere from 45 yards and in.
Wiggs was just okay as a punter, averaging 36.4 yards per try and put nine inside the 20, but sophomore Cody Webster was better averaging 43.4 yards per kick putting 12 inside the 20. However, he needs to be a bit more accurate putting seven into the end zone.
Waynelle Gravesande struggled as a punt returner averaging just 4.3 yards per try, but he'll get the first look at taking back the job, while corner Josh Johnson will also get a long look after averaging 9.1 yards per try. They'll each be tried out on kick returns with Al-Terek McBurse gone, but receiver O.J. Ross is the top option after averaging 23.1 yards per try.
Watch Out For … Webster to be a stronger punter. All he needs to do is improve his consistency a little bit and he could jack up his average big-time. He's a good one, but Wiggs could take back the job and double-dip with a strong fall camp.
Strength: Wiggs. For an offense that sputtered and struggled, Wiggs was a godsend over the second half of the season and is a proven weapon. There will be no problem letting him air it out from beyond 50.
Weakness: The coverage teams. The return game was awful finishing 100th in the nation averaging 19.76 yards per kickoff and 5.58 in punt returns, but the coverage teams were worse allowing 22.1 yards per kickoff return.
Outlook: The special teams won't be bad with Wiggs a solid placekicker, but the rest of the special teams needs a boost. The experience is in place to do more, but the focus has to be there and the results have to start coming. The team isn't good enough to have mediocre special teams play.
Unit Rating: 5
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