2007 Purdue Preview - Defense
Purdue Boilermakers Defense Preview
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What you need to know: The
Boilermakers haven't played defense for two
years, and now the hope is for experience to
turn into production with nine starters
returning. Stopping the run will be priority one
after finishing last in the Big Ten allowing 191
yards per game. The porous secondary should be
better with all the young, inexperienced
prospects of last year ready to shine as
veterans. Overall, the pillow-soft D needs to
find a nasty streak and start to play far
Tackles: Dan Bick, 95
Sacks: Cliff Avril, 6
Interceptions: Justin Scott. 3
Star of the defense: Senior DE Cliff Avril
Player that has to step up and become a star: SophomoreDT
Unsung star on the rise: Junior LB Anthony Heygood
Best pro prospect: Junior DT/DE Alex Magee
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Avril, 2) Magee, 3) CB
Strength of the defense: Experience
Weakness of the defense:
The line got to into the backfield last season mainly because Anthony
Spencer was an unstoppable machine. Now he's gone leaving senior Mike
McDonald with the unenviable task of taking over at end after making
12 tackles and a sack in a limited role. The former JUCO transfer
has decent size at 250 pounds and he's a pass rusher, and while he won't
be Spencer, he'll be quick enough to make plays behind the line on a
251-pound senior Cliff Avril benefited from all
the attention paid to Spencer finishing third on the team with 84
tackles with six sacks and 15 tackles for loss playing a little at
linebacker and spending most of the year at end. Now he'll be the main
man with all the focus on him, and he has to come through with
generating consistent pressure all season long.
6-4, 295-pound junior Alex Magee isn't physical enough at
tackle and isn't quite quick enough to be a regular end, but he'll play
some on the outside because of his size and his relative athleticism.
He'll start off the year inside coming off a 33 tackle season, and now
he has to use his quickness to start being more of a factor. He has the
talent; he just has to produce as well as he did in spring ball when he
played on the outside.
6-4, 293-pound sophomore Mike Neal will start
at the other tackle spot coming off a nine tackle season as a reserve. A
great defensive end prospect when he first came to Purdue, he's
extremely quick on the inside, but he has to prove he can hold up
against the run on a regular basis.
Projected Top Reserves: 6-5, 288-pound junior
Ryan Baker could start at tackle either in place of Magee or next to
him. He started 11 times last year making 25 tackles and six tackles as
the team's best interior pass rusher. The former tight end is a bit
streaky and not nearly strong enough against the run, but he's a strong
veteran for the rotation.
Junior Jermaine Guynn could become the
team's best run stopper with a strong 298-pound frame and a non-stop
drive. Always working and always active, he made 38 tackles and three
tackles for loss in a reserve role and now will rotate in behind Neal.
Senior Eugene Bright looks the part of a top pass rusher with
good athleticism and strength, but he has yet to put it all together
with just eight tackles despite playing in almost every game.
Watch Out For ... Avril to be the next in line. It
was Rob Ninkovich two years ago who was the unstoppable pass rusher, it
was Spencer last year, and now it's Avril's turn as the number one
disruptive force if the back problems that plagued him this spring don't
turn into a regular problem.
Strength: Overall quickness. Everyone can move and
all four spots should, theoretically, be threats to get into the
backfield. There's no reason to not generate consistent pressure.
Weakness: Run defense. The front four has been
steamrolled over the last few years and this season might not be any
different without any true run stuffers to count on. It's not a small
line by any stretch; it's just not good at slowing down anyone's running
Outlook: Purdue always finds ways to get to the
quarterback and is active enough to cause opposing lines some concern,
but it just can't hold up against the run. That's not a plus in the Big
Ten. Anyone with a pulse of a ground game ran for close to 200 yards,
and that'll happen again this year even with all the returning
Senior Dan Bick started off last season on the middle before
moving to the weakside. Now he'll move back to the middle after leading
the team with 95 tackles to go along with four broken up passes. He's
more of a natural on the inside with good toughness and
sideline-to-sideline to range. He's not much in pass coverage and isn't
going to get to the quarterback, but with his experience and toughness,
he'll be one of the leading tacklers.
Fifth-year senior Stanford
Keglar will take over the full-time job on the weakside after behind
moved around a bit and making 69 tackles. Even at 247 pounds, he
has the speed and athleticism to move well in space and make the play.
He's been around long enough to know what he's doing at any of the
Junior Anthony Heygood will step in on the
strongside after making six stops in a limited role after moving over
from the offense. The 230-pound former running back was never going to
get the ball, and it took a while for him to figure out what he was
doing on defense, but now he appears ready to be a breakout star after a
great spring. With the speed and range to play on the weakside, he
showed off the toughness on the strongside the team's been missing.
Projected Top Reserves: With Bick on the sidelines
this spring with a neck injury, it's Josh Ferguson's chance to
make a name for himself as he tries to come back from a broken hip that
ended his season after seven games. He's been a good reserve with the
size at 242 pounds to add more bulk to the middle.
Humphrey was a good recruit for the program and now needs to use his
speed and pass rushing ability on the weakside behind Keglar. The
223-pound former star high school sprinter should grow into a disruptive
Watch Out For ... the coaching staff to play around
with the lineup all year long. Finding a true middle linebacker to
replace George Hall is job one, but Bick wasn't able to play this spring
and still might project to be better on the outside.
Strength: Options. Bick and Keglar can play any of
the three spots, and Ferguson and Heygood are versatile. The job will be
to find the best three linebackers and get them on the field at all
Weakness: Production. Oh sure, the stats will be
there with plenty of tackles, but will they mean anything? The
linebacking corps has to do more to take the fight to the offense.
Outlook: The coaching staff is looking for a nasty
attitude from its defense, and it has to start with the linebacking
corps. Injuries prevented any sort of cohesion in spring ball, so every
practice this fall will be vital to see who can start changing things
around for the struggling D and which combination works best.
All four starters return to the secondary, for good or bad, led senior
corner Terrell Vinson. The team's fourth leading tackler last
year, with 73 stops, and leading pass defender, breaking up seven
passes, he came over from the JUCO ranks as was an instant playmaker.
While he's not all that big, has a great athlete and has the ball skills
to do far more against the pass as long as he doesn't have to spend so
much time dealing with the running game. On the other side is sophomore
Royce Adams, a top punt returner who came on in his true freshman
season to make 37 tackles with an interception. He'll be a mainstay of
the defense for the next three seasons.
The safeties will have far more responsibility this year now
that the training wheels have come off. Senior strong safety Justin
Scott was the team's best all-around defensive back last season with
60 tackles, three interceptions and five tackles for loss. A seasoned
veteran having come over as a JUCO transfer, he knows what he's doing,
is a great hitter, and can jump out of the stadium. Sophomore Brandon
Erwin had a nice true freshman season at free safety making 46
tackles and recovering four fumbles. He might have come up with some
nice stats, but he also played like a freshman when the ball was in the
air. That seemed to change in spring ball and now he should come up with
Projected Top Reserves: Junior strong safety
Torri Williams is arguably the team's most talented defensive back,
but the former wide receiver suffered a knee injury early last season
after missing all of 2005 with a broken leg, and now has even bigger
problems having been suspended from the team after being arrested for
driving drunk. If and when he's back, he'll be behind Scott. Sophomore
corner David Pender has good size and some of the best wheels on
the team. He made 13 tackles in a reserve role and now will combine with
Adams at one spot. Junior corner Aaron Lane is a bit limited, but
the former walk-on is smart and tough making 14 tackles despite missing
half the year with a broken collarbone. He's quick enough to see plenty
of action behind Vinson.
Watch Out For ... the secondary to be
head-and-shoulders better. This was a sore spot all of last year, but
now all four starters know what they're doing and there's good depth to
Strength: Experience. Besides the four returning
starters, Lane, Williams and King could all start at any time.
Weakness: Proven production. Yes, everyone should
be better, but now they actually have to go out and stop someone. After
giving up 200 yards or more in ten games, and only picking off 11
passes, everyone has to start producing.
Outlook: Purdue might have been 104th in the
nation in pass defense, but at least things improved allowing 46 fewer
yards per game than it did in 2005. The corners have to start
concentrating more on pass defense and the safeties have to start
getting to the ball on a more consistent basis. Both things will happen
as this could be the team's most improved area.
Projected Starters: Sophomore placekicker Chris
Summers has to be far better after a rough first season hitting just
eight of 20 field goals. He has a big leg, but it's just not accurate. A
little confidence boost would be a big help. It might be as simply as
hitting one big kick to turn things around. Backup option Tim
Dougherty will continue to fight for the job, but he doesn't have
the same leg as Summers. There aren't any concerns with the punting game
with the return of senior Jared Armstrong, who bombed away for a
43.1-yard average putting 16 inside the 20 and forcing 12 fair catches.
He's an all-star candidate with a tremendous, accurate leg.
Watch Out For ... Summers and Dougherty to be in a
battle all season long. The coaching staff has to find confidence in one
Strength: Armstrong. Considering how shaky the
defense is, having a punter who can pin teams deep is a major bonus.
Weakness: The return game. Royce Adams only
averaged 6.2 yards per try on punt returns and Dorien Bryant and Kory
Sheets led the way for an 18.7-yard kickoff return average.
Outlook: The return game should bounce back in
time, there's too much talent to be that average again, but the
placekicking could prove costly. The coverage units were an unsung
strength last season and need to be again to give the defense as much
help as possible. Armstrong will be in the hunt for All-Big Ten honors.