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Gold and Black Illustrated, Vol 26, Digital 6

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J a'Whaun Bentley has been able to make the makeable plays, the ones that are tai- lor-made for a hard-charging, physical middle linebacker. And he doesn't often miss. But the junior wants to be more than that by developing into a player who can turn in the exceptional, as well, having more of those 'Did-you-see-that?' moments. And to accumulate those, he's working hard this offseason, not to only rehab from the ACL tear that ended his '15 season after five games, but to drop weight. The 6-foot-2 line- backer had trimmed a dozen pounds, getting down to about 248 by mid-June. He thinks it'll help turn him into a bigger playmaker this season. "As far as making the hard-to-make plays and finishing all the way through, there's been some times where I could have made some huge, big-time plays," Bentley said. "I think weight came in the factor some of the time. I'm not going to leave that up to size or any- thing any more." But even a bit heavier, it's not as though Bentley's been pedestrian. Before he was hurt in practice the week before the Minne- sota game — he tore the ACL in his left knee, the same as he had done as a sophomore at DeMatha Catholic High School — Bentley was leading Purdue in tackles, with 49, including 7.5 tackles for loss. Over a full 12-game sea- son, that would have equated to 118 tackles and 18 TFLs, comparable to Ohio State's Joshua Perry (105 and 7.5, respectively), an All-Big Ten first-team member last season who was a fourth-round NFL pick in the spring. But that was Bentley last year. Now … "He's probably even better," fellow lineback- er Danny Ezechukwu said. "… We're running every day and as much as it hurts me to ad- mit, he's actually beaten me in a couple races. And that's just the competitive nature in our room. He's looking better than ever. He's al- ways been a good athlete, a real heady player who understands different situations, and I would say he looks better than even before." And healthy, too. Only five months removed from his ACL surgery, Bentley participated in Purdue's spring practices in March, complet- ing the individual drills and much of the team portions, also. Purdue held the veteran out of the jersey scrimmage and spring game — and some 11 vs. 11 work in other practices — but more for precautionary measures. Had it been a fall Saturday, he likely could have gone. "I felt really good, so much so that it was almost scary," Bentley said. "There were some days I felt so good that they had to hold me back. They were like, 'All right, there's no point for you to go 100 percent in the spring,' so you just want to get the reps to get the system down. But it was beneficial to get the end-of- game, full-speed type feel." It might have been made more important by Ross Els' new defensive scheme, which puts an emphasis on linebackers being able Better Than Ever? Tom Campbell In the spring, Ja'Whaun Bentley didn't seem affected by the left knee injury that cost him the second half of 2015. Many think he'll return better than ever. GOLD AND BLACK ILLUSTRATED VOLUME 26, ISSUE 6 47

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