2009 Purdue Preview - Defense
Purdue DT Mike Neal
Purdue DT Mike Neal
Posted Jun 8, 2009

CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Purdue Boilermaker Defense

Purdue Boilermakers

Preview 2009
- Defense

- 2009 CFN Purdue Preview | 2009 Purdue Offense
- 2009 Purdue Defense | 2009 Purdue Depth Chart
- 2008 Purdue Preview | 2007 Purdue Preview | 2006 Purdue Preview   

What you need to know: It might take a little bit of time, but the defense has the potential to be special with a slew of very young, very athletic prospects with several options for the coaching staff to play around with. New defensive coordinator Donn Landholm won't change all that much from the Brock Spack era with one notable exception: turnovers. Landholm's defenses are very active and they make a big deal out of trying to take the ball away. Step one will be to get more of a pass rush, and that shouldn't be an issue with Ryan Kerrigan about to become a superstar on one end and with good interior pass rushing prospects in Mike Neal and rising star Kawann Short. The secondary might be the strength of the team with three returning starters led by safety Torri Williams and corner David Pender. The linebacking corps is young but promising with nine good options to work with. There's a nice combination of speed and size all along the front seven, but there has to be more production against the run.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Torri Williams, 83
Sacks: Ryan Kerrigan, 7
Interceptions: Dwight Mclean, Torri Williams, 2

Star of the defense: Senior DE Ryan Kerrigan
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior S Dwight Mclean
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DE Gerald Gooden
Best pro prospect: Redshirt freshman DT Kawann Short
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Kerrigan, 2) FS Torri Williams, 3) CB David Pender
Strength of the defense: Young talent, Secondary
Weakness of the defense:
Run defense, Proven backups

Defensive Line

Projected Starters
The line needs a star to build around, and it might have found one in junior Ryan Kerrigan. The 6-4, 263-pound junior earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors after making 56 tackles with seven sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss, but he can do more. The former tight end was a terror throughout spring ball with an even higher motor and showing off even more quickness. If he can get help from the rest of the line and isn't double teamed on a regular basis, he should be a lock for double-digit sacks.

Starting on the other side in place of Alex Magee will be sophomore Gerald Gooden. A 6-3, 235-pound athlete has a tremendous burst and the potential to shine with all the attention sure to be paid to Kerrigan. Originally considered a linebacker prospect he's a bit undersized, but he makes up for it with his speed and athleticism making 15 tackles with two sacks in his limited work.

Underappreciated but strong, fifth-year senior Mike Neal will be the anchor up front after an up-and-down career. He was supposed to be a key starter on the inside a few years ago, but instead he was a key backup making 33 tackles in 2007 before taking over the full-time job last year making 33 stops with 5.5 sacks and ten tackles for loss. Even though he's 6-4 and 301 pounds, he's able to play end if needed and would be ideal in a 3-4 alignment. He was tougher than last year throughout the offseason and he should be an All-Big Ten performer.

Stepping in at the other tackle spot is Kawann Short, a 6-4, 310-pound redshirt freshman who dominated at times throughout the spring. A great recruit, he's tremendously athletic for his size and he should be able to get into the backfield as easily as he'll eat up the run. All the tools and all the measurables are in place to become an instant star.

Projected Top Reserves: Sophomore Nickcaro Golding is an Evanston, Illinois native who got away from Northwestern and has grown into a potential playmaker as a pass rushing specialist. He was moved around between linebacker and end in his first season on the field making 13 tackles, but he didn't make anything happen in the backfield. That'll change as the 6-5, 225-pound sophomore will see time in the rotation behind Kerrigan.  

6-5, 283-pound sophomore Nick Mondek was supposed to be a key factor on the inside last year but he only finished with seven tackles. While he's not a huge inside presence, he's quick enough to potentially grow into a good interior pass rusher working in the rotation with Neal.

Robert Maci has to become a pass rusher. More of a linebacker than a true defensive end, the 6-4, 236-pound redshirt freshman has a good motor and is a strong tackler, but he's not a natural sacker. He has to find a role quickly or he'll be lost in the shuffle with Gooden firmly entrenched at one end.

Watch Out For ... Short. He has it all from NFL size to good quickness, but he has to put it all together and become crank the motor up a few notches. If he wants it, he could quickly grow into the star player on a potentially very good line.
Strength: Pass rushing potential. Kerrigan should be a sure-thing All-Big Ten performer while Gooden has the athleticism to be great if he can learn to close on the quarterback, Neal should be one of the league's best interior pass rushers.
Weakness: Run defense. There's really no excuse for this line to not be far better. There's size, quickness, and the potential to be strong, but it has to buck the trend of recent lousiness against the run. The Boilermakers were miserable over the last few years and almost never came up big last year. Again, the potential is there to change that.  
Outlook: After a bit of an off-year when it comes to getting to the quarterback, this year's line should be terrific when it comes to generating pressure. Neal and Kerrigan appear to have stepped up their games in a big way, while there are enough good young prospects for come up with a strong rotation. This could be one of the team's biggest areas of improvement.
Rating: 7


Projected Starters
Gone is leading tackler Anthony Heygood from the strongside, and in will step Jason Werner ... maybe. The 6-4, 221-pound fifth-year senior is a leader and the type of player who could be a rock for the defense, but he has to be healthy after missing all of last year with a back problem. He's very smart, very tough, and very mobile, but his back has been a career problem, starting when he was a safety, and limited him to just 28 tackles in 2007. If he's right, he'll be one of the team's leading tacklers. He could work on the weakside if needed.

Former safety Joe Holland made 76 tackles with a sack in his first year on the weakside, and now that he knows what he's doing, he should be far more consistent. Very smart and very talented, the 6-1, 220-pound sophomore has tremendous range and should be doing far more to both get into the backfield and against the pass. He's the type of playmaker the coaching staff can ask to do a lot of different things.

Working again in the middle, after starting five times over the second half of last season, is 6-2, 215-pound sophomore Chris Carlino, an undersized but tough defender. He made 36 tackles and picked off two passes, and now he has to show he can hold up for a full season on the inside despite his lack of size. A pure football player, he was the runner-up for Indiana's Mr. Football honor two years ago, and he showed he was ready to play right away hitting the field as a true freshman.

Projected Top Reserves: Combining forces to back up Werner on the strongside will be junior Tyler Haston and freshman Antwon Higgs. Haston is a 6-2, 228-pound veteran who's one of the best athletes in the linebacking corps but was limited to special teams last year, making five tackles. Higgs got to school early and while he needs time and seasoning, he might already be the team's best linebacker. At 6-3 and 248 pounds he's big, and he's very active. He could find a niche as a pass rushing specialist right away.

Sophomore DeVarro Greaves will combine with redshirt freshman Nnamdi Ezenwa to back up Holland on the weakside. Both are from Georgia, and both cam move. Greaves, a 6-2, 216-pounder, was one of the team's top recruits a few years ago with track speed, but he only made four tackles and a sack last season. The 6-2, 210-pound Ezenwa is raw, but fast. He could end up seeing time at safety if needed.

Junior John Humphrey can play either in the middle or the strongside. With 6-1, 230-pound size and sprinter's speed, he was a high school track star, he has the potential to be a key defender or be used as a pass rusher. However, so far he has been a major disappointment being used only as a special teamer last year.

True freshman Dwayne Beckford could end up being the main backup in the middle behind Carlino. A tackling machine from New Jersey, he was a great high school pass rusher, making 27 sacks in two years, and didn't miss many stops. At 6-3 and 223 pounds, he has good size to go along with his toughness.

Watch Out For ... Werner's back. He has the talent and the potential to be the team's best linebacker, but he can't stay healthy. Considering his back problems, Haston and Higgs will have to be at the ready.
Strength: Young potential. It's going to take a little while, but this group could be strong with six of the nine players in the expected rotation underclassmen and with Werner the only senior. Considering Holland and Carlino are returning starters, and sophomores, there's room for growth over the next few years.
Weakness: Production. There was a ton of turnover throughout last year in the middle and there wasn't enough of a good rotation to count on. There might be young talent and a lot of potential, but everyone has to show they can produce after doing nothing against the run last year.
Outlook: While there isn't the upside here that there is on the defensive front, there's a lot to get excited about. There's so much young talent, and so many options, that the coaching staff should be able to find three good defenders out of the nine prospects to create a good, sound corps. There will be several role players and lots of rotating.
Rating: 6.5

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters
Back for what seems like his 19th year with the program, free safety Torii Williams was given an sixth year of eligibility and he should be an all-star performer. He earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors after finishing second on the team with 83 tackles, two interceptions and six broken up passes. At 6-2 and 208 pounds he has good size, a ton of experience, and a lot of baggage since arriving on campus in 2004. He suffered a broken leg, a torn up knee, and was suspended for a time after getting charged with drunk driving. If that wasn't enough, he was also suspended for a bit last offseason after getting arrested for shoplifting condoms. Now he's expected to be a leader, being named a co-captain, and he'll be one of the team's best all-around players.

Returning at one corner is fifth-year senior Brandon King after a strong, underappreciated year making 48 tackles with an interception and nine broken up passes. A great tackler, he made 44 stops as a sophomore, he's a big-time athlete who's just now coming into his own after originally coming to Purdue as a receiver despite being a star high school quarterback. At 5-11, 192 pounds he has good size to go along with his speed and experience.

On the other side will once again be senior David Pender after he started every game last year and got seven starts in 2007. The 6-1, 175-pounder earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors after making 32 tackles with an interception and 12 broken up passes. One of the team's fastest players and best athletes, he was a Georgia state champion-level sprinter and long jumper, he has all the tools and the proven production. He'll be the team's No. 1 cover-corner.

Senior Dwight Mclean will take over the full-time job at strong safety after starting four times over the first half of last year. The former JUCO transfer was a high school wide receiver and stepped up and produced right away after spending two years at Fullerton College. At 6-1 and 210 pounds he's big and fast, and he also showed he could play making 36 tackles with two interceptions including a game-saver against Central Michigan.

Projected Top Reserves: Once again working as a key backup at safety will be junior Josh McKinley after serving as a spot starter and making 17 tackles for the second year in a row. A good athlete and a reliable tackler, he has good range and could play either safety spot and will start out at strong safety.

The team's best backup corner will be Charlton Williams, a 6-2, 200-pound speedster who was supposed to be a key player last year but didn't play. He made four tackles as a reserve two years ago and looked like a star this spring. Now he'll work behind King.

Part linebacker, part cornerback, part special teamer, sophomore Kevin Green has been moved around throughout his young career and spent all of last year on special teams. He's 5-10 and 192 pounds with the potential to be used as a return man as well as a gunner, and now he'll be in the rotation with Pender.

Watch Out For ... Mclean. He might be the newcomer to the full-time starting mix, but he has the experience and the size to be one of the team's top three tacklers at strong safety. He could be a sleeper pick for all-star recognition.
Strength: Production. Fine, so most teams spent their time running the ball on the Purdue D, but despite the lack of a steady pass rush to help the cause the secondary had a strong year. It could be the team's biggest strength with most of the key parts coming back.
Weakness: A No. 3 corner. There's a ton of potential and great speed and athleticism, but Williams and Green have to prove they can play. They're only sophomores and will grow into their roles, but they'll have to shine first in nickel and dime packages before they can show what they can do at corner.
Outlook: A major problem a few years ago, the secondary has gotten steadily better over the last two seasons. Now it should be the best group of defensive backs the program has had in years. Torii Williams is a sure-thing all-star and Pender and King will be in the mix. There's potential among the backups, even if there isn't a ton of experience.
Rating: 8

Special Teams

Projected Starters
The kicking game was once again all on senior Chris Summers, who struggled as a punter averaging 38.4 yards per kick with 14 put inside the 20 and regressed as a placekicker. He nailed 18-of-22 field goals two years ago, but missed five of his ten kicks last year. Now he'll be just the punter, while sophomore Carson Wiggs will serve as the placekicker and backup punter after hitting 8-of-11 field goals.

The punt return game sputtered without Dorien Bryant as Desmond Tardy averaged 6.3 yards per kick. Now the return game will be all about Aaron Valentin, a speedy receiver who averaged 23.7 yards per kickoff return and will handle the punt return duties.

Watch Out For ... Summers to be trying his leg at field goals again soon. Wiggs was great as a fill-in, but Summers was too good two years ago and has too long a leg to not see a few deep shots.
Strength: Valentin. He was a strong kickoff returner and a major weapon, and now he should add more pop to the punt returns.
Weakness: Punt coverage. A total disaster, the Boilermakers allowed a whopping 16.7 yards per punt return with three touchdowns. Summers was part of the problem, but the coverage teams struggled.
Outlook: J.B. Gibboney will take over the special teams coaching and there's a renewed emphasis on tightening things up. The kicking game will be fine, Summers is a good veteran and Wiggs will be solid. If Valentin can do for the punt return game what he does as a kick returner, the Boilermakers will have a major weapon.
Rating: 7