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Gold and Black Illustrated, Vol 27, Digital 5

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Page 26 of 87

GOLD AND BLACK ILLUSTRATED VOLUME 27, ISSUE 5 27 As soon as Lagow turned his shoulders to throw the ball, Bailey, reading Lagow's eyes, broke. The ball went right into Bai- ley's hands, an easy interception, and he raced 39 yards, eyeing the end zone. He was bumped out a yard shy. Still, naturally, Bailey was mobbed by teammates as he trotted to the sidelines. When he got there, he told then-linebackers coach Marcus Freeman, "Coach, I knew that play was coming." Had Bailey pushed hard, Lagow probably would have completed a pass underneath to the tight end. But Bailey took a calculated risk, read the route and made a huge play. A play that perhaps best encap- sulates Bailey, a player dedicated to watching film to be as prepared as possible and a player who has ultimate confidence in his ability to make a play, based on instincts and the athleticism to actually de- liver. They're all reasons Bailey burst onto the scene in his first season as a full-time starter as a redshirt freshman in 2016. They're how he led the team in not just tackles, not all that uncommon for a line- backer, but also in interceptions with a whopping four. A Purdue linebacker hadn't had that many in- terceptions in nearly 20 years, when Mike Rose had four in 1997, and a linebacker hadn't led the team in picks since 2004, when George Hall grabbed two. And Bailey nearly was the first Purdue linebacker with 100 tackles — he was just shy with 97 — since Anthony Heygood's 114 in 2008. But, then, this spring, Bailey spent two months learning a new defense under a new coordinator and position coach. And Nick Holt's defense is hardly like Ross Els' defense last season. Turns out, though, that could be a very good thing: Holt's scheme is primarily zone coverage, not mostly man like last season, and Holt is particular about put- ting linebackers in position to make plays, encour- aging aggressiveness and instinctive playmaking. And that means Bailey could even add sacks to his résumé now, which would be a significant addition considering there's not a single Purdue linebacker returning who recorded a sack last season. Though Bailey said he was slow to adjust early to the new concepts this spring, it was hard to tell. Over Purdue's 15 practices, he consistently got to the ball, whether flowing to fill run fits or racing to zones to bat balls down or pick them off. It's a promising proposition, really: Bailey could be even better in this defense. "Overall, I think it was a good first year, consid- ering it was my first year fully playing. But I think that's not my ceiling," Bailey said after the spring. "I think I still can do a lot better than that. Hopefully in the new scheme, we'll be able to make more plays." It didn't take Holt long to realize he had something potentially special in Bailey. During Purdue's first practice of the spring, when Tom Campbell Bailey's athleticism and instincts allowed him to make plays in zone coverage last season — all four of his interceptions came in that coverage.

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