2008 Purdue Preview - Defense
Purdue LB Anthony Heygood
Purdue LB Anthony Heygood

Posted May 9, 2008

CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - Purdue Boilermaker Defense

Purdue Boilermakers

Preview 2008
- Defense

- 2008 CFN Purdue Preview | 2008 Purdue Offense
- 2008 Purdue Defense | 2008 Purdue Depth Chart
- 2007 CFN Purdue Preview | 2006 CFN Purdue Preview 

What you need to know: After two years of abysmal defense, defensive coordinator Brock Spack finally got some production out of his side of the ball. It wasn't a brick wall of a defense by any stretch, but it was far better overall than it was. Things should be even better with six starters returning, and most of the new starters full of experience. It's not going to be a star-studded group, and there isn't any major strength, but there isn't a glaring problem, either. The pass rush should be decent from all four spots on the line, while the emergence of Jason Werner, now paired with Anthony Heygood, will give the Boilermakers a great set of outside linebackers to work around. The secondary will be fine if David Pender can grow into a No. 1 corner and if Torri Williams is in the mix at strong safety after being suspended this off-season.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Anthony Heygood, 81
Sacks: Keyon Brown, 3.5
Interceptions: Torii Williams, 2

Star of the defense: Senior LB Anthony Heygood
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior CB Royce Adams
Unsung star on the rise: Junior LB Jason Werner
Best pro prospect: Heygood
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Heygood, 2) Werner, 3) SS Torri Williams
Strength of the defense: Outside linebacker, experience
Weakness of the defense:
Pass defense, defensive back depth

Defensive Line

Projected Starters
One starter has to be replaced, but he's a good one. Cliff Avril was an NFL caliber end who was the team's leading pass rusher, and while sophomore Ryan Kerrigan might not be the same type of talent, he has big-time upside and should grow into the starting job. The former tight end is 6-4 and 255 pounds with good quickness and a little bit of experience making 18 tackles with a tackle for loss.

Returning on the other side is 6-3, 241-pound junior Keyon Brown, a serviceable all-around defender who moved over from linebacker to start the final 12 games of last year making 21 tackles, 3.5 sacks and four tackles for loss. While he's not going to be a rock against the run as long as he's on the line, he should be even more of a regular in the backfield.

6-4, 295-pound senior Alex Magee isn't the beefiest run stopper in the middle, and he's not quite quick enough to work on the end, but he's a versatile lineman who could be moved inside or out depending on the situation. He's an ideal end in a 3-4, but he'll use his good athleticism and experience as an interior pass rusher after making 38 tackles and 4.5 tackles for los last season.

6-5, 280-pound senior Ryan Baker was supposed to be a key backup before taking over the starting job in fall camp last season. He turned out to be fine, making 22 tackles with four tackles for loss, but he didn't dominate after showing great promise in a six-sack sophomore season. The former tight end needs to be more consistent and has to prove he can do more against the run. 

Projected Top Reserves: Mike Neal appeared headed for a starting spot before getting pushed to a backup role in far camp last season. Even so, the 6-4, 293-pound junior played well making 22 tackles with two sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss as a key player in the rotation, and now he'll work behind Baker. Part end and part tackle, he's too quick for most guards, but he's only average against the run.

While Kerrigan might be the new playmaker on the end, the coaching staff is looking for redshirt freshman Gerald Gooden to provide a spark. Originally a top linebacker prospect when he came to Purdue, he's a pure pass rusher of a defensive end with great athleticism and a big-time burst.

6-6, 275-pound sophomore Nick Mondek is due to come through and contribute. One of the stars of the 2007 recruiting class, he might be a bit undersized as a regular tackle, but he's a smart, active playmaker-in-waiting. He'll work behind Magee inside, but he'll be used in a variety of ways.

Watch Out For ... Brown to be the new star pass rusher. Purdue has become a bit of a factory for top-notch pass rushers, and Brown has all the skills and all the potential to be the next in line. He won't have Avril to take the heat off, but Kerrigan should be good enough to keep teams to help the cause.
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 from everywhere with athleticism and experience at every position..
Weakness: Run defense. Things were better last season after an awful 2006, and they should improve even more this year. However, this isn't a front four that'll be a brick wall against the most physical running games.
Outlook: While the overall numbers might not show it, Purdue has been great at pressuring the quarterback over the last few years, and now someone has to step up to replace Avril and be the new man on the outside to keep the production rolling. With three starters returning and decent backups, this should be one of the better Boilermaker lines in the last few years, but it's not going to be star-studded.
Rating: 7


Projected Starters
The linebackers were going to be a concern, and then 6-4, 221-pound junior Jason Werner came off of back surgery and showed this spring that he's ready to grow into a star. Originally a safety, even though he was considered a top linebacker coming out of high school, he missed all of 2006 recovering from back surgery, and then he was a good reserve last year making 28 tackles with a sack and two tackles for loss. Now he appears to be fully recovered and even better. All over the place this spring, he's the team's new defensive star working on the weakside.

Back on the strongside will be 6-2, 230-pound senior Anthony Heygood, a former running back who finished second on the team with 81 tackles with a sack and 15 tackles for loss. A big hitter who forced three fumbles, he had few problems making the transition. While he's fast enough, and good enough against the pass, to be used on the weakside, he's a strongside defender.

Taking over in the middle for Josh Ferguson will be Kevin Green, a 6-2, 236-pound sophomore who made seven tackles in a reserve role. One of the team's top recruits a few years ago as both a linebacker and running back, he has speed and toughness to be a statistical star inside.

Projected Top Reserves: Working either on the strongside or the middle will be sophomore Tyler Haston, a 6-3, 222-pound rising star who made eight tackles as a true freshman. The former high school quarterback is one of the best athletes in the linebacking corps, and while he's not all that big, he can move.

Sophomore John Humphrey was a great recruit a few years ago and is now expected to come through as an option in the middle. A high school sprinter, he has the range to go along with decent 6-1, 237-pound size in the middle. He has the potential to be used on the end as a pass rusher, but first he has to get on the field after sitting on the sidelines in his first two years.

6-2, 208-pound redshirt freshman DeVarro Greaves was considered one of the team's top recruits two years ago, and while he's built more like a safety, he'll bring his track speed to the weakside behind Werner.  He didn't play last year, but now he could be used in a variety of ways to get his athleticism on the field.

Watch Out For ... Werner. Heygood was supposed to be the star of the linebacking show, and he has All-Big Ten talent, but Werner could be the team's best linebacker by the end of the year and the defense's most disruptive force.
Strength: Speed. Toughness has always been in question when it comes to Purdue linebackers, but at the very least, this group can move. Werner is a defensive back playing linebacker while the top backups, Haston, Humphrey and Greaves, are bulked up track guys.
Weakness: Stopping the run against the more physical teams. There weren't many problems against teams like Iowa and Northwester, who struggled to pound the ball last season, but Penn State Ohio State and Michigan powered the ball when they had to on this group.
Outlook: If Werner is as good as expected and if Heygood has a repeat of last year, the Boilermakers could have the most productive outside linebackers outside of Columbus. Replacing Keglar in the middle will be tough production-wise, but eventually, Green  and Humphrey should be better players.
Rating: 6.5

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters
Things should be fine if junior David Pender can step in and be a No. 1 corner in place of Terrell Vinson, the team's leading tackler who also led the way with five interceptions and 12 broken up passes. The 6-1, 180-pound Pender should be just fine after filling in as the starter over the second half of the season and finishing with 44 tackles with an interception and six broken up passes. One of the team's fastest players, he should shine with the bigger role.

Back on the other side is junior Royce Adams, a decent tackler, making 30 stops, but an average pass defender. At 6-0 and 190-pounds he has good size, but he has to make more big plays after failing to make an interception while breaking up just two passes. Pushed out of a starting job last year by Pender, he'll need to be more of a playmaker now that he has a starting job back.

Senior SS Torri Williams has had a very interesting career. Arguably the team's most talented defensive back since arriving on campus in 2004, he was a good reserve as a true freshman, missed all of 2005 with a broken leg, missed almost all of 2006 with a messed up knee, was suspended from the team for drunk driving last year, but still played in seven games and made 17 tackles with two interceptions and a sack, and this year he's on a short leash, and was suspended, after getting charged for shoplifting. He was caught stealing condoms.

Working again at free safety will be Brandon King, a 5-11, 192-pound junior who started every game and made 44 tackles with an interception and six broken up passes. It took a little while, but the big-time athlete has found a role after coming to Purdue as possible receiver and a high school quarterback. Now that he has a year of experience, he should be far better.

Projected Top Reserves: Working at free safety behind King will be sophomore Josh McKinley, a valuable reserve last season who saw time in five games and got a start against Indiana finishing with with 17 tackles and a sack. The 6-1, 218-pounder is a high-riser with good athleticism and range. He'll find a spot somewhere, and he could end up at strong safety if Williams is out.

The team's top backup corner will be Charlton Williams, a 6-2, 200-pound true sophomore who made four tackles and was used as a special teamer. With his size and upside, he'll see plenty of time behind Adams.

Watch Out For ... Pender. He grew into a good corner over the second half of last year, and now with Vinson gone, he'll be the No. 1 coverman.
Strength: Veterans. This was an experienced group last year, and considering Torri Williams should play a bigger role, if he's not booted off the team for good, and with Pender playing a bigger role, this year's secondary isn't starting from scratch.
Weakness: Depth. There are some decent prospects like McKinley and Charlton Williams to get excited about, but for the most part, there will be big problems if injuries strike or if the coaching staff needs options.
Outlook: After two abysmal seasons, the secondary improved by leaps and bounds. It still gave up 240 yards per game, but it did a better job of eliminating the really big play. Now the help has to be there to replace Vinson and his five picks, and Torri Williams has to be the star he was expected to become a few years ago. This will be a good group, but not a great one. However, it should be better than last year.
Rating: 6.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters
The kicking game is all on junior Chris Summers, who'll handle the placekicking and the punting. Jared Armstrong was a good punter, averaging 40.7 yards per kick with 17 put inside the 20, and Summers has to prove he can be consistent. As a placekicker, he's a weapon nailing 18 of 22 field goals including a 50-yarder against Penn State.

Replacing Dorien Bryant, who averaged 28 yards per kickoff return with two scores might not be that hard, and his 6.2 yards per punt return is easily replaceable. Corner Royce Adams will take over the punt return duties, while Desmond Tardy should pick up the slack on kickoff returns after averaging 28.6 yards on eight returns.

Watch Out For ... Tardy to be every big as good as Bryant on kickoff returns. He's a speedster who should average around 25 yards per return without much of a problem.
Strength: Summers and kick coverage. The offense knows that it'll get points any time it gets to around the 35. Summers is almost automatic. The Boilermaker kickoff coverage was fantastic allowing just 16.9 yards per return.
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: As long as Summers is fine handling the punting job, and as long as it doesn't screw up his placekicking, the special teams will be solid. Adams has to be stronger on punt returns than he was two years ago when he had the job, but Tardy will be a weapon on kickoff returns.
Rating: 7.5