2012 Purdue Preview – Defense
Purdue DT Kawann Short
CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Purdue Boilermaker Defense
Preview 2012 - Defense
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What You Need To Know:
The defense wasn't all that bad despite giving up close to 400 yards and 27 points per game. The depth is limited and a bit of a concern, but the starting 11 should be extremely strong and aggressive led by a superior tackle tandem of Kawann Short and Bruce Gaston in the middle. With Ryan Russell looking like the next-big-thing at end, the line should be a major plus. The linebackers are thin, but Dwayne Beckford and Will Lucas are tackling machines who should put up huge numbers. There isn't a better tackling corner tandem in the country than Ricardo Allen and Josh Johnson, but the safeties are a bit of a concern and the pass defense has to be better against the stronger quarterbacks.
Star of the defense: Senior DT Kawann Short
Tackles: Dwayne Beckford, 91
Sacks: Kawann Short, 6.5
Interceptions: Ricardo Allen, 3
Player who has to step up and be a star: Senior SS Max Charlot
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DE Ryan Russell
Best pro prospect: Short
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Short, 2) LB Dwayne Beckford, 3) CB Ricardo Allen
Strength of the defense: Tacklers, Defensive Tackle
Weakness of the defense: Depth, Safety
6-3, 310-pound senior Kawann Short had a big decision to make this offseason, putting off the NFL for another year to be the main man on the Boilermaker defensive front for one more year. With his size and tremendous quickness he can be used in a variety of ways. Strong enough to sit on the nose from time to time, he's at his best as a 3-technique able to use his burst off the ball to fly into the backfield and be disruptive on a regular basis making 54 tackles with 6.5 sacks and 17 tackles for loss. Great at breaking up passes, he has batted down ten throws over the last two years while coming up with two blocked kicks last season. All the tools are there, but now he has to be a wee bit better against the run while continuing to collapse things from the inside.
With Short expected to dominate at one tackle, 6-2, 303-pound junior Bruce Gaston should be in for a huge year at the other spot after making 30 tackles with three sacks and seven tackles for loss. One of the team's top recruits a few years ago, he played like it right away with a good freshman season before breaking through with a stronger season last year. A potential all-star, he has the talent and the ability to be every bit as good as Short with a little bit of time, but he has to be stronger against the run.
Generating a little more of a pass rush would be nice with 6-5, 264-pound sophomore Ryan Russell back after coming up with a nice first year making 33 tackles with a sack, 4.5 tackles for loss and a team-leading three forced fumbles. A star in the making, he has good quickness to go along with his size, bulking up a bit over the last year. After dominating at times this offseason, the spotlight will be on to become a major playmaker.
Junior Brandon Taylor isn't built like a pass rushing end at 6-1 and 280 pounds, but he'll be used in a variety of ways getting the call on the outside to start but likely filling in at tackle. The Miami native is a terrific athlete making 19 tackles with a sack and 2.5 tackles for loss, but he'll be at his best in 3-4 alignments as a run stopper. Banged up and limited this offseason, he'll rotate with the speedier Robert Maci, a 6-4, 241-pound senior who looked promising with ten tackles and two sacks with four tackles for loss in just five games before being lost for the year with a foot problem. He'll work both as an end and an outside linebacker.
Sophomore Jalani Phillips hit the weights hard going from a 6-3, 210-pound safety-like end into a 6-4, 255-pound prototype. He didn't see much time making just two tackles in a limited time, but he'll be part of the end rotation along with Ryan Isaac, a 6-5, 266-pound versatile option who can play inside or out. While he missed time this spring with a knee injury, he should be back to be a factor after making nine tackles with a tackle for loss.
Watch Out For … Gaston. While the world will be gushing over Short, there's a chance that Gaston could turn out to be every bit as good. He's quick for a 300-pounder and has the talent to grow into an even bigger playmaker.
Strength: Tackles. There might not be a better pair in the Big Ten than Gaston and Short, while Taylor could end up being a dangerous interior pass rusher if he doesn't end up at end. The coaching staff will move several players around to rotate with the big two.
Weakness: Run defense. With two monsters in the middle like Purdue can boast, the defense shouldn't be allowing 175 rushing yards per game and 25 scores. The line has to not only be better at stuffing things up, but it has to be better at getting to the quarterback.
Outlook: The line wasn't awful and it was good at getting behind the line, even if it wasn't great at coming up with sacks, but now it could be special. The hope is that Russell turns into the team's next great pass rusher, while there's a good chance that the two tackles are earning NFL paychecks next year at this time. The depth might not be there and a second end has to come forward, but this should be a plus.
Unit Rating: 8
After a rocky offseason with top man in the middle Dwayne Beckford getting kicked off the team after being arrested for a DUI, he's back in the mix where he should be one of the Big Ten's best all-around playmakers. The 6-1, 228-pounder was a superstar high school pass rusher who grew into a tackling machine making 84 tackles two years ago and finished second on the team with 91 stops with three sacks and seven tackles for loss with four broken up passes. While he didn't do too much to get into the backfield, he was all over the field making big things happen and he should once again be a stat-sheet filler.
Returning to his spot on the strongside is junior Will Lucas, a 5-11, 226-pounder who has been a big part of the equation from the start making 43 tackles as a true freshman and coming up with 82 tackles with a sack and ten tackles for loss. Very athletic and great at getting around the ball, he's an instinctive defender who always seems to know how to be around the right place at the right time. A monster hitter, he's an intimidating force.
Taking over on the weakside will be sophomore Joe Gilliam, a 6-1, 211-pound athlete who can see time on the strongside behind Lucas or can be a decent all-around option on the other side after making seven tackles. However, he'll have to battle with end Robert Maci, who'll see some time at linebacker, and junior Sean Robinson, a quarterback who made a shockingly easy transition to the defensive side. With no chance of getting in the rotation with three good quarterbacks already fighting it out, he moved over to linebacker where he showed he could get all over the field and wasn't a bad hitter. While he's only 6-3 and 210 pounds, he can play any of the three spots.
Watch Out For … Gilliam. The other two spots are set, but there will be a fight for the weakside job. Gilliam might end up as a key reserve, but if he can show he can do the job, all of a sudden the starting three should be rock solid.
Strength: Tacklers. Beckford and Lucas are great hitters who should be all over the field. They might make a few too many plays down the field and they might get shoved around a bit much, but they can swarm and should put up huge numbers.
Weakness: Depth. There are a few seniors like Antown Higgs and Nnamdi Ezenwa who can rotate in, but there will be huge problems if there are several injury problems.
Outlook: If the defensive line does the job it's supposed to and holds up well against the run, the linebackers should be able to fly around and make plenty of plays. Beckford and Lucas will be among the Big Ten's best tandems, but the rotation is a bit iffy and a strong No. 3 defender needs to emerge.
Unit Rating: 6.5
The secondary did a decent job with a veteran group holding up well. This year both corners are back led by junior Ricardo Allen, who was thrown into the fire as a freshman finishing third on the team with 73 tackles. He showed that his first year wasn't a fluke making 81 stops with a team-leading three picks and four broken up passes. At 5-9 and 176 pounds he's not all that big, but he's a peerless tackling corner – leading the team with 62 unassisted stops – while continuing to work and improve looking to get even better this offseason.
Also returning to a starting spot is corner Josh Johnson, a 5-11, 195-pound senior who made the move over from wide receiver a few years ago and was excellent making 64 tackles with two picks and nine broken up passes with 4.5 tackles for loss. While he's not the hitter that Allen is, he's extremely physical and has a great nose for the ball.
Both starting safeties need to be replaced with a dogfight for both starting spots. 6-0, 190-opund senior Max Charlot came in from Fullerton College a few years ago and has been a decent reserve coming up with 41 tackles last season. However, he only broke up two passes and didn't do enough against the pass. A spot starter, he should be able to hold up at strong safety, while 6-0, 178-pound sophomore Landon Feichter is a good-looking prospect who made 25 tackles in his first year and can step in and play either safety spot or be used as a nickel or dime defender.
6-0, 180-pound Normondo Harris moved to receiver and then came back to the defensive side making 22 tackles with a broken up pass. A good-sized free safety who can move, he has great range and should be one of the team's leading tacklers if he can hold down the job. An elite athlete, he's on the Purdue track team. 6-1, 178-pound sophomore E.J. Johnson will also be in the mix for the job after making three tackles in a limited role.
Watch Out For … the safeties. While Charlot and Harris have experience and appear ready to take over the jobs and be fine, there will be a bit of a fight. The coaching staff is giving all the key prospects a shot, and the jobs should be open up until the Eastern Kentucky game.
Strength: Tackling corners. It's not necessarily a plus that corners are doing so much hitting, but Johnson and Allen are potential all-stars who can hold their own in the open field. They're excellent defenders who can keep plays from turning into backbreakers.
Weakness: Interceptions. The Boilermakers came up with four against Alex Carder and Western Michigan in the bowl game, got two against Michigan, and scattered six picks around over the other 11 games. The pass defense was fine, but it got picked clean by some of the better passers.
Outlook: There might not be a tougher or feistier corner tandem in the Big Ten than Allen and Johnson, but the safeties are a question mark. If the defense can find two good hitters – Charlot should be one – and can settle on a good rotation, the secondary will be solid. It would also be nice if the pass rush was stronger to help the cause.
Unit Rating: 7
Gone is veteran Carson Wiggs, who nailed 34-of-44 field goals over the last two years and had a deep leg able to nail shots from 50+ yards. Freshman Paul Griggs was a top kicker recruit with a huge leg, nailing a 57-yarder in high school. Can he be as consistent as Wiggs? It's his job to for the taking.
Junior Cody Webster came up with a good year averaging 42.9 yards per kick with 11 put inside the 20. He's not great at pinning teams deep, but he has a solid, consistent leg and was good enough to earn second-team All-Big Ten honors.
Sophomore Raheem Mostert didn't catch a pass in his true freshman season and he only made four tackles, but he ran for 108 yards and two scores on 16 carries and he grew into the best kickoff returner in college football. He took over the job in the fourth game of the year and cranked out 96 yards on four tries against Notre Dame, and he didn't stop averaging 33.48 per try with three touchdowns highlighted by a return for a score in the bowl win over Western Michigan. With his speed and ability, the 5-11, 180-pounder out of Orlando will be used more on offense this year, too. The punt return job is open, and while Mostert will get the first chance, corner Will Allen will get his chances.
Watch Out For … the kicking game. Purdue played seven games decided by a touchdown or less and needed kicks to beat Middle Tennessee and Ohio State. Griggs could be the difference between a bowl season and a losing campaign.
Strength: Mostert. While he's getting a bad break with the new kickoff rules moving up five yards, he's still among the most electrifying players and will get more than his share of chances to take the ball out of the end zone.
Weakness: Punt returns. Waynelle Gravesande didn't exactly light it up averaging just 5.9 yards per try. There are several speedsters and lots of options to play around with, but the Boilermakers need more production out of the spot.
Outlook: This could be one of the team's shakiest areas if Griggs isn't great right away. The kickoff coverage was miserable last year allowing 24.2 yards per try, and the punt return game has to be far better, but Mostert is special and Webster is among the best in the Big Ten.
Unit Rating: 6
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