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Gold and Black Illustrated, Vol 26, Digital 6

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Page 49 of 110

LB emerge in the same way. Larkin is a bit of an unknown, having transferred from City College of San Francisco in the spring af- ter spending only a semester there. Before, he had been a walk-on line- backer at Notre Dame. But the junior has picked up his new position quickly. "He's a good technician, took to coaching really, really well," Els said. Robinson, who had a sack-and-a- half last season, will still challenge. The knock on him, however, remains the same, that he doesn't consis- tently play with the motor necessary to have a big impact. Maybe it's fixable, but getting the 6-1, 265-pound junior to do it has been a work in progress,. "He'll get there, just keep work- ing and kind of earn Coach Melvin's respect and trust, just show him he can play," Panfil said about Robin- son. "He knows he can play, and we all know he can play. He'll be a great player this year, and I know he's go- ing to play a lot and help us win." Purdue's other issue is depth. It doesn't have much on the line, a concern that is particularly worri- some — nearly extreme levels — on the interior. Howard's departure didn't help. The big, nasty nose tack- le constantly looked on the verge of putting it all together, but the last piece was getting his mental atti- tude to match his physical ability. It never happened. In the spring, Howard's progress fell apart. Hazell suspended the for- mer starter for spring practices, say- ing that the senior-to-be had a series of obligations to fulfill before he could be reinstated. Despite seemingly be- ing afforded plenty of opportunities, Howard couldn't get it done. In May, he admitted via text that academics were part of his hang-up while say- ing that he planned to transfer. Later, it was reported that he was entering the NFL's supplemental draft. And now it's left Purdue with a significant void. During the spring, sophomore Keiwan Jones, who is coming back from an ACL injury, and Ryan DeBusk shared second-team snaps at nose, while senior Langston Newton was Replogle's backup. Maybe Newton, who has played a bit both on the interior and at end during his previous two seasons at Purdue, can hold up, but the nose is a big question. It might require Purdue to play at least one freshman, with it bringing in three — Alex Criddle, Lorenzo Neal Jr. and Anthony Watts — this summer. They have the size, all 300-plus-pounders, with Neal com- ing in weighing a robust 347 pounds. "Fortunately, we have three re- ally big dudes coming in this class, so we'll see who can play there," Els said. "Not that the (returning) guys behind Jake and Eddy can't play, but there's going to be some good com- petition for some playing time be- hind those guys." Purdue has a veteran linebacker corps. Its five most experienced players — Ja'Whaun Bentley, Danny Eze- chukwu, Jimmy Herman, Andy Gar- cia and Garrett Hudson — have to- taled 62 starts in their careers. But they'll have only limited oppor- to cover potential receivers in space. That's not necessarily been Bentley's strength — he's been excellent at crash- ing the box in search of the ball carrier — but he's learn- ing to adjust. The weight loss should help. "It definitely will help me in that area, being quicker, be- ing able to avoid blocks," he said. "I've always been more of a hit-the-guard-head-on, knock-him-back type of guy, but there are some situations where you don't have to do that. Avoid him with a little quickness, a little speed." Purdue's defense should be helped measurably by Bent- ley's return. Last season, there was a steep drop-off after his injury, with Purdue giving up more rushing yardage (231 per game) and points (40) in the last seven Saturdays vs. 193 and 33, respectively, before. But he'll help in immea- surable ways, too. Bentley, a captain as a sophomore last season and likely one again in '16, might be the Boilermak- ers' best leader. "He's going to have to be (in that role)," Els said. "You don't want to take a guy like that off the field. The guys trust him because of what he's done here in the past, and he's a really, really dynamic football player. It's going to be inter- esting to see what kind of year he has." — Kyle Charters GOLD AND BLACK ILLUSTRATED VOLUME 26, ISSUE 6 48

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