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Gold and Black Illustrated, Vol 27, Digital 6

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Page 38 of 117

GOLD AND BLACK ILLUSTRATED VOLUME 27, ISSUE 6 39 E ddy Wilson can't help but slink back in his chair and smirk, giving off a vibe that he knows something few others do. He's been asked whether Purdue's de- fense can exceed expectations this sea- son. Expectations are understandably low, given where the Boilermakers have been; the de- fense ranked 13th in the Big Ten last season, giving up 445.8 yards per game, and it allowed an average of 38.3 points on Saturdays, most in the conference. It had games in which it gave up 605, 520, 512 and 511 yards, including frequently nauseating numbers on the ground, like 365 to Iowa. But Nick Holt, Purdue's first-year co-defensive coordi- nator and defensive play-caller, brings in a scheme that would appear to accentuate Purdue's positives, namely a potentially physical, experienced front seven, that could give opponents problems at the line of scrimmage. Wilson has bought in. "Something special is coming," the junior defensive tackle said. There are pieces, plus the new scheme, that might make others believers, as well. In its front, Purdue has several veterans, like Wilson and Gelen Robinson, like- ly its starting interior linemen, plus senior linebackers Ja'Whaun Bentley, Danny Ezechukwu and T.J. McCollum, a graduate transfer from Western Kentucky, and sopho- more Markus Bailey, an emerging standout. "We've got some guys who are locked in," Wilson said. "We work out consistently at the same time every day. We've got a group (text) chat. We eat together. We do homework together. We're together every day (from the 8 a.m. workout) 'til 10 o'clock every night. And it's the close togetherness that I haven't seen. It's something re- ally special." But Purdue has questions, too. Defensive end, a posi- tion that hasn't turned in major production in the last half dozen years, isn't yet solidified, although Purdue thinks it has options. And the Boilermakers are still developing in the secondary, but Holt has said the group made the biggest strides from the start of the spring to the end. And then there's the issue of depth. Purdue wore down badly in second halves of games in the second half of last season, losing six straight. But Jeff Brohm and Co. have tried to bolster the re- serves this offseason by bringing in a couple of graduate transfers on defense — and five in total — with defen- sive back Josh Okonye and McCollum. Plus, tackle Ray- mond Ellis, end Kai Higgins and safety T.J. Jallow, who was at Purdue for the spring semester and a likely starter in the fall, are junior college transfers. The additions likely won't solve all of Purdue's issues, but it's hoped they're a step in the right direction. As may be the new system brought in by Holt, with help from fellow co-coordinator Anthony Poindexter, who coaches the safeties. Whereas Purdue did some things last season defied its relative strengths, like dropping its linebackers into coverage and playing predominantly man in what was an inexperienced defensive backfield, the Boilermakers will attack more in the front and play mainly zone in the back. Much will be funneled toward the linebackers, proba- bly the defense's strength, allowing them the opportuni- ties to go make plays. "I feel like Coach Holt is a guy who will (be aggressive) with his style, downhill, attacking, throwing the punch- es and not trying to only counteract or react to what we see," Ezechukwu said. "I think that we really are working on that and are really narrowing our focus on that better than we have in the past." It took 15 practices in the spring to change the Boil- ermakers' mindset and get a grasp on the new playbook, challenges that will continue through the summer and into camp. Holt calls the defense a base 4-3, but it's fre- quently not that simplistic. Purdue will also feature a hybrid "Leo" position, a defensive end — or linebacker — who might play on the line and rush the quarterback at times or could drop off on others. It'll give the Boil- ermakers a multiple-front look, with the option to bring pressures from a variety of locations. Last season, when he was the coordinator at Western Kentucky, Holt's Hilltopper defense recorded 34 sacks in 14 games, an average of 2.43 that ranked fourth in Conference USA and 35th in the country. It averaged 6.2 tackles for loss per game, No. 47 of 128 FBS teams. "We try to make it hard on the offense (by showing), 'Here we are and here we're not' and then bringing a person from this side, then a person from that side," Holt said during an extensive interview in June. "We do a lot of movement, with slanting and angling. … That's how

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