2008 Purdue Preview - Defense
Purdue LB Anthony Heygood
CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - Purdue Boilermaker Defense
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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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.