2013 Purdue Preview – Defense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - Purdue Boilermaker Defense
Preview 2013 - Defense
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What You Need To Know:
Defensive coordinator Greg Hudson was a part of the Florida State defensive staff before signing on with Darrell Hazell, and he has a decent group of starters to build around. The defense finished 11th in the Big Ten and had major problems against any offense with a pulse, but there's good tacklers in the secondary and decent athletes in the front seven. Hudson will play around with a combination of a 3-4 and 4-3 depending on the situation, but he'll want to work around a good line led by tackle Bruce Gaston and rising pass rusher Ryan Russell on the end. The secondary is loaded with veterans, but they have to start coming up with stops and more big plays.
Star of the defense: Senior DT Bruce Gaston
Tackles: Landon Feichter, 80
Sacks: Ryan Russell, 4
Interceptions: Landon Feichter, 4
Player who has to step up and be a star: Junior LB Joe Gilliam
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Armstead Williams
Best pro prospect: Junior DE Ryan Russell
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Gaston, 2) Russell, 3) CB Ricardo Allen
Strength of the defense: Experience, Line
Weakness of the defense: Consistency, Decent Offenses
Kawann Short did a little of everything for the defensive front last season, but his running mate wasn't bad, either. 6-2, 303-pound senior Bruce Gaston isn't Short as a pass rusher, but he's an active interior presence who came up with 28 tackles with 5.5 tackles for loss. One of the team's top recruits a few years ago, he came out firing with a terrific freshman season, but now he has to take his game to a whole other level in his final season. The tools and talent are there, and it all has to come together as the anchor and leader for a solid defensive front after he gets back from a thumb injury. Working behind Gaston in the rotation is 6-4, 295-pound sophomore Michael Rouse, a dangerous prospect in the interior. Quick off the ball, he could blow up as a situational pass rusher as either a tackle or a 3-4 end.
Who'll take over for Short? 6-5, 294-pound senior Ryan Isaac will play inside as a tackle in a 4-3 but is better suited as a 3-4, 5-technique end. The veteran added almost 30 pounds over the last few seasons, but he has the potential to breakout because of his quickness. He made 14 tackles last year, but he needs to get to the quarterback. If he moves back outside, 6-1, 295-pound senior Brandon Taylor would be first in the rotation after coming up with 11 stops. Like Issac, Taylor is versatile enough to work inside or out.
Is Ryan Russell ready to become a breakout star? The 6-5, 275-pound junior has a nice résumé and showed flashes over the last two seasons with four sacks and 37 stops in 2012 after generating 4.5 sacks and 33 tackles as a freshman. Quick off the ball for his size, he showed this offseason that he's ready to take his game to a whole other level. There's NFL potential with his size and athleticism, but he needs to be even more of a playmaker.
6-6, 265-pound senior Greg Latta came in from College of the Desert where he worked as a tight end before moving to defensive end. He's still emerging and still working on the position, but he could become a big-time producer after showing signs last year with 12 tackles and a sack. He'll be working with junior Jalani Phillips, who went from being a 210-pound safety to a 6-4, 260-pound pass rushing option who looks like the prototype end. Now he has to play like it on a regular basis after a solid 23 tackle, two sack season.
Watch Out For … the new guys. Two years ago Danny Hope went big on beefing up the defensive front. This year Darrell Hazell is getting an even bigger haul for the front wall with nine prospects coming in - but don't expect an immediate impact. Tackle Ra-Zhan Howard has 305-pound bulk, but Antoine Miles and Johnny Daniels need time to get bigger for the interior. Danny Ezechukwu out of Georgia – the best of a huge crop of ends - has the potential to be a pass rushing terror in the near future.
Strength: The starting four. Gaston and Isaac should be fantastic in the interior and Russell has all-star talent. If Latta can crank things up a little bit, all of a sudden, the loss of Short won't be that big a deal.
Weakness: Steady pass rush. It was non-existent at times with no sacks in four games and not enough consistent pressure in the backfield. The run defense wasn't a prize at times getting ripped up by Michigan and Wisconsin.
Outlook: A massive disappointment last season, even with a great year from Short, the line has to become far stronger and needs more explosion on the outside. The depth is a bit of a concern, but that could be remedied with a move to a 3-4 alignment once in a while.
Unit Rating: 7
The linebacking corps is one of the team's biggest question marks – it has to be better – and that means junior Joe Gilliam has to be a force in the middle. Only a 227 pounds – and that's beefed up – on a 6-1 frame, he's a great athlete who showed he could hit a little bit finishing fourth on the team with 57 tackles with a sack, but he didn't do enough to get behind the line and he didn't make enough plays down the field. He's active and can go sideline to sideline, but he needs to grow into a powerhouse against the run.
Senior Sean Robinson is a former quarterback who moved over to the defensive front without a problem. He's bringing that same signal-caller leadership to the linebacking corps with nice potential to do even more after making 27 tackles with three broken up passes. At 6-3 and 240 pounds, he'll bring good size to the weakside, while 5-11, 230-pound senior Will Lucas will push for time and could fight for his ole job back in the middle. A good tackler, he finished second on the team with 66 stops with 6.5 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles, but he made far too many plays down the field. Very athletic and great at getting to the ball, he'll come up with the stop and will provide the huge hit, but he has to come up with a bigger impact.
6-3, 223-pound sophomore Armstead Williams is a good-looking sophomore who came to West Lafayette as a good all-around prospect with excellent athleticism, but he didn't do much last season making eight stops and has to show he can handle the work on the strongside. Redshirt freshman Andy James Garcia is a 6-0, 220-pound Miami native with a high motor and serious pass rushing potential at either outside spot.
Watch Out For … Johnny Thompson. Is he a defensive end or a linebacker? The 6-3, 200-pound true freshman is one of the team's better recruits for the defensive front, but he's not necessarily a pure pass rusher. The former tight end did a little of everything in high school, and there's the potential to add at least 30 pounds and work somewhere on the outside either on the line or the linebacking corps.
Strength: The starting three – maybe. There's the hope for Gilliam, Robinson and Lucas to form a solid starting trio, but Williams could push his way into the mix and could allow the coaches to go to a 3-4.
Weakness: Sure-thing depth and playmakers. The starters have the potential to be great, but there are still plenty of concerns about whether or not the veterans can go from serviceable to fantastic. The rotation might be a slight concern.
Outlook: Linebacker has been an issue over the last few years for a defense that doesn't come up with enough big plays. There's talent, but are there enough good producers who can make an impact? More plays behind the line are a must, and holding up better against the power teams would be nice.
Unit Rating: 6.5
The hit-or-miss secondary should be improved with a starting foursome loaded with experience. The leader of the pack is 6-0, 189-pound junior strong safety Landon Feichter, a big-hitting all-around playmaker who led the team with 80 tackles and four interceptions. Able to play either safety spot, or be used as a nickel or dime defender, he has the versatility to be put anywhere the coaching staff needs him. He took a pick back for a 34-yard score in the opener against Eastern Kentucky, made 12 tackles against Wisconsin, and proved time and again that he can be one of the team's most reliable last lines of defense.
Back at free safety is junior Taylor Richards, a 5-10, 192-pounder out of Florida with nice range and quickness to the ball. A great athlete who saw time as a true freshman, he came up with 51 tackles with six broken up passes and a blocked kick. While he wasn't spectacular, he was a steady factor throughout the season. Backing him up is 6-1, 185-pound junior E.J. Johnson, a good recruit a few years ago and a terrific tackler when given a chance making 14 stops with a broken up pass in just eight games of work. He's one of the better all-around athletes in the secondary.
Senior Ricardo Allen should be among the best corners in the Big Ten with three years of experience and plenty of great things on his résumé. While he's only 5-9 and 186 pounds, he's an excellent tackler making 45 stops last season with a sack and a pick with four broken up passes. As decent as he was last season, he was even stronger in his first two seasons with 154 tackles – he's outstanding in the open field.
5-9, 186-pound sophomore Frankie Williams will get the call on the other side, but with his tremendous hitting ability he's better at safety or in nickel situations. He did his part when the ball was in the air making two picks and nine broken up passes, but he's at his best when he gets to deliver a pop making 45 tackles as part of the rotation. Also in the mix once again is senior Normondo Harris, a former receiver who moved back to the defensive side a few years ago making 22 stops in 2011 and just eight last year in an injury-plagued campaign. An elite athlete who can play anywhere in the secondary, the track team sprinter has 6-0, 180-pound size and can move.
Watch Out For … Tyvel Jamison, the team's best defensive back recruit. A 5-11, 175-pound corner from Fort Wayne, he's a terrific tackler who could be used as a safety if needed. He'll eventually be one of the team's shutdown corners.
Strength: Experience. Allen, Richards, Feichter and Williams all know what they're doing. They've been through the wars and they can all tackle. Harris and Johnson can fill in the gaps wherever needed.
Weakness: Good passing teams. Marshall threw at will on the Boilermaker secondary and Penn State, Indiana and Oklahoma State all put up massive yards after October. The pass rush needs to be a bit stronger to help the cause, but the secondary has to make more big things happen when the ball is in the air.
Outlook: This is a feisty, strong-tackling group of defensive backs who try hard and should have their moments, but will be outclassed and outplayed by the better more talented receiving corps. The experience will be enough to get by.
Unit Rating: 7
The Boilermakers used a combination of now-sophomores Paul Griggs and Sam McCartney, who combined to go 9-of-14 with McCartney nailing 5-of-7 kicks and the bigger-legged Griggs being used mostly from longer distances. Griggs has more talent and will be the main option.
The punting wasn't bad yardage-wise with senior Cody Webster averaging 42.3 yards per kick, but he improved his accuracy in a huge way putting 29 kicks inside the 20 after putting just 11 in the coffin corner two years ago. He doesn't have a huge leg, but he's a solid veteran.
While there are several nice options to return kicks, running back Akeem Hunt will get the first look after averaging 22.2 yards per pop with a 100-yard dash for a score against Ohio State. Extremely quick and great in the open field, he's always able to come up with positive yards. Also in the mix will be do-it-all playmaker Raheem Mostert, one of the best kickoff returners in the nation a few years ago averaging 33.48 yards per try, he came back strong averaging 25.7 yards per pop. With his speed, when he gets a seam, he's gone.
Corner Frankie Williams has to improve the disastrous punt return game, but he only averaged 1.4 yards per try and the team averaged a pathetic 3.2 yards per pop.
Watch Out For … Mostert. He was way, way too good a few years ago to not be a bigger factor again. Deadly when he gets his chances, he should do even more with Akeem Hunt having to shoulder more of the rushing workload.
Strength: Kickoff returns. Mostert and Hunt are two of the best in the Big Ten and have the ability and talent to give the team a huge field position boost.
Weakness: Punt returns. This was a problem two years ago, but it was a mega-issue in 2012. Ricardo Allen came up with a 25-yard punt return. Take his one try away, and Purdue averaged a horrendous 2.2 yards per try.
Outlook: There's too much experience for the special teams to not be a plus, Griggs and Webster are good veteran kickers, while the kick return game could be better if Mostert is Mostert again. The coverage teams need a decent boost after allowing 9.7 yards per punt returns and 21.4 yards per kickoff returns.
Unit Rating: 6.5
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