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Gold and Black Illustrated, Vol 26, Digital 6

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GOLD AND BLACK ILLUSTRATED VOLUME 26, ISSUE 6 52 DB this fall. He's one of Purdue's best defenders, its heart and a likely captain. Ezechukwu also seems to have a track toward extensive playing time, considering he's played so much before, is a good athlete and has shown ability to come up with big plays. But others can make arguments toward filling spots: Coaches love redshirt freshman Markus Bailey, who has an instinct for the position that belies his age. He's returning from an ACL injury last season as well, having gone down in Week 3 before the redshirt eligibility cutoff. Speaking of injury, Herman has had plenty, including shoulder surgery that kept him out of the spring and hamstring problems that limited his effectiveness last fall, but the senior can make a big impact when healthy. Garcia might have some physical limitations, but he stepped up in a pinch last season, after injuries took away Bentley, Bailey and Herman, and recorded 63 tackles, third- most for Purdue. The same could be said for Hudson, a walk- on who ended the year with 32 stops. "Coach (Marcus) Freeman has made it clear that some- times for an entire game we might only have two lineback- ers on the field," Ezechukwu said, referring to Purdue's line- backers coach and its co-defensive coordinator. "We might have three playing bigger teams. Or we may just have one. But Coach Freeman doesn't harp on that. He treats us as young men and professionals and lets our play hash it out. He grades our film and lets it speak for itself. There's noth- ing hidden in our room. If you make a mistake, it's out there. If you do well, it's out there. What's understood doesn't need to be explained too much. We understand the situation our defense is in; we all want to play and we're all going to do what we have to in order to see the field. The play will speak for itself." It might be whoever figures out Els' new concepts first. In the new defensive scheme, the linebackers are to play pass- first, meaning that their first step should be a lateral move toward a potential receiver, not a forward one toward the line of scrimmage. That might mean a middle linebacker keeping an eye on the running back or a weakside dropping into a shallow zone. It'll help the Boilermakers deal with the growing number of run/pass option plays (RPOs) that offenses now feature, Els figures. On such plays, a quarterback makes a pre-snap read of the defense to determine whether he'll throw a pass to a receiver or hand off to a running back. "It was a transition for all of these (linebackers)," Els said. "There's no right way or wrong way, but if you're a guy playing run first and you're responsible for a guy running a route and they fake the run — and there's all these RPOs — and your guy is running the route, you can't cover. "You have to think the other way, go from a pass situation that will take you to your run fit. Everyone thinks, 'Oh, you're going to be soft in that situation.' No, you're not going to be soft. So that was a little bit of a change for them, just slow them down, slow them down to see what to do." It's going to take some rewiring, a task that began during the spring. But Bentley says it's getting easier. "If we're in run/pass conflict, we're choosing pass," he said. "… We'll get the run after we check the pass. That's really all it is, but if we get run, you best believe we're coming downhill really fast." In a defensive scheme that will have extra defensive backs, Purdue needs extra defensive backs. And that's a challenge. Following the graduations of Anthony Brown and Frankie Williams, Purdue has a dearth of experience in its second- ary, particularly at cornerback. It did get one answer in the spring, when junior Hunte stepped into a bigger role — he had been Purdue's third cornerback last season and played about 140 snaps, 700 few- er than both Brown and Williams — and excelled. Purdue named him its most improved player for the defense follow- ing the spring game, deservedly so after he had frequently held his own against DeAngelo Yancey the prior month-and- a-half. "You can tell he really wants it and he's ready to fulfill his role," senior safety Clark said. But after trying out others at the second cornerback spot and at nickel back, which holds increased importance in Els' scheme, Purdue was left with more questions than answers. "You've got to find who the corners are," Hazell said. "That's a big concern. … I don't think it's a lack of guys in house. There's enough athletic bodies there, but someone needs to step up and take the position, and I'm not sure any- one has done that yet." Definitely not. Purdue tried to give guys looks, putting Tim Cason, Mike Little, Myles Norwood, J.C. transfer Kamal Hardy and walk- ons Antonio Blackmon and Race Johnson with the 1s, both

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