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Gold and Black Illustrated, Vol 28 Digital 6

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Page 42 of 91

GOLD AND BLACK ILLUSTRATED VOLUME 28, ISSUE 6 43 some technique things he has to work on, tackling and stuff like that. But he has enough natural ability to be a great player at this level." Barnes tried relying on natural ability last season, without enough knowledge. But since then, he's worked to rectify that, intently studying the playbook and get- ting a better feel for his assignments and those around him. This spring, Barnes took just about every relevant team snap, which he feels will be hugely important in the fall. He thinks he'll play faster, which was a problem during his brief stints last season — in that Wisconsin game, he was replaced first by Jones, then by veteran Garrett Hudson. "You're thinking in the back of your mind, 'Oh, it's just football. What could possibly go wrong?'" the Cov- ington, Ky., native said. "But when you get into it, it's as hard as people say. It's a hard game. "When you get those spring reps and when you've been able to get into a game, it teaches you a lot and shows you a lot. It shows you how the game is, so I think I'll be better prepared now. The experience is a key, as far as being able to play in the Big Ten." Now, Barnes is looking to erase what happened last season. He'll get plenty of opportunity. The Boilermak- ers, as of mid-June, had only five scholarship lineback- ers on campus. They're counting on Barnes to lock down the middle, pairing him with Bailey to give them two quality linebackers. Finding a third — Purdue is without a sure-fire strongside linebacker, at least before training camp — will be a key. But the lack of depth will be compounded if Barnes also proves a question at middle 'backer. He vows to be ready. "I'm definitely excited to contribute and be a big fac- tor to the team," Barnes said. "I'm looking at Markus and trying to become the player that he is. That's what we need on the defense, as far as 'backers right now, a couple more who can lead and play the right way and will always put in the work." — Kyle Charters change some things up. We've got to move some guys around. We have to change some looks. All those things are important. But I think we get it and we know what we have, and we've got to adjust. So I feel confident we'll do a good job. "If we don't, we won't win." Following is a position-by-position look at the Boilermaker defense. Defensive line In losing five of its top six players from last sea- son, the defensive line is down a combined 99 games of starting experience. What remains? Only Neal's 16 career starts, plus one belonging to Keiwan Jones. That puts the onus on the two vet- erans — Neal is a junior, while Jones, who sat out much of last season with a knee injury, is a fifth- year senior — to bring an otherwise inexperienced group along. "No matter what happens, college football is al- ways baptism by fire," Neal said. "I think being one of the older guys, and the leader on the defensive line, I want to make sure that all the guys who hav- en't played as much will get into that mindset about (knowing) how tough it is before we get to the sea- son. "The worst thing would be for us to get to Game 3, then we're finally clicking. I want everybody to know what it takes so that when we get into summer, get into camp, they understand the grind and how much harder it's going to be during the year, because we want to have a successful season. And that's one of the keys to it, getting everybody ready to go as fast as possible." Neal needs to lead, but as importantly, he needs to work toward his peak condition while staying healthy. He wasn't the latter during the spring, when an undisclosed injury kept him from full participa- tion. He took part in some individual drills, but not team work, not an ideal scenario for a player as crit- ical to Purdue's fortunes. But as of mid-June, the 6-2, 315-pounder (as he's listed on Purdue's official roster), said he was feel- ing good and recognizes what is expected of him. "I think the coaches trust me and know that I can get myself in the best shape, and that's what I'm do- ing right now," he said. "I knew that coming (into

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