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Gold and Black Illustrated, Vol 27, Digital 6

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GOLD AND BLACK ILLUSTRATED VOLUME 27, ISSUE 6 44 LB Purdue's linebackers are going to make plays in this new defense. Holt made that clear from Day 1. "One of the first times I met him, he was telling me that I should love the defense and that I should have more than a hundred tackles easily," said Bailey, a weakside 'backer who finished with a team-high 97 last season. "It's linebacker-driven. That caught my attention, and then when we started in the spring, I realized what he was talking about. The defense gives us a little more free rein. He wants us to see the ball, then go make plays on the ball, instead of being so strict in your assignments. "Of course, he wants you to do your job, but he wants you to make plays, get interceptions, cause fumbles, pro- duce on the field." And that sounds great, particularly for a group of line- backers that was frequently forced to stymie their natural instincts in Ross Els' defense a year ago. Then, Els, the co-defensive coordinator with Marcus Freeman, want- ed the linebackers — generally there were only two in Purdue's base 4-2-5 — to think pass-first, a strategy that caused hesitation while they diagnosed the play. As a re- sult, Purdue's linebackers made only one sack in '16. By contrast, Holt wants the linebackers on the attack, pursuing the ball wherever it is on the field. His defense is designed as such, but it fits too with the personnel. The linebackers — Bailey, Bentley, Ezechukwu and Mc- Collum in particular — are the defense's strength. "That's really what this defense is predicated upon," said Ezechukwu, slotted as the strongside (outside) line- backer as of now. "It's those inside 'backers flowing and making plays, so I expect you'll see a lot of it, those guys making plays on Saturdays." Bailey loves it, as he should. The third-year sophomore developed into a playmaker in the second half of last sea- son, having fully recovered from the ACL injury that forced him out of his true freshman year. Bailey finished last sea- son with four interceptions, all in the Big Ten, plus a couple pass breakups and six tackles for loss. The 6-1, 230-pounder is an instinctual, fast, athletic player who now has more than a year of experience. "When you have good athleticism, good size and good strength (and) you put (in) all of those intangi- bles, like his love of practice and love of football, he can be a really, really good football player, one of the better ones in the conference I'm sure and one of the better ones that I've had the opportunity to coach," said Holt, who has coached at USC and Washington, among other programs. "He's just got to keep on getting bigger and stronger, but when it's all said and done, he'll be as good as the guys I've coached before who have played in the NFL. He has those qualities (of) the (Brian) Cushings By The Numbers 87 2008 5 Career starts by Boilermaker linebackers, including 25 by T.J. McCollum (all at Western Kentucky), 25 by Ja'Whaun Bentley, 22 by Danny Ezechukwu, 12 by Markus Bailey and three by Garrett Hudson. The last season in which a Purdue linebacker finished with more than 100 tackles. Senior Anthony Heygood led the Boilermakers with 114 that year. Given Nick Holt's scheme, it's likely a Purdue linebacker finishes with at least 100 this season. Transfers who could play for the defense this fall: McCollum (WKU), safety T.J. Jallow (East Mississippi Community College), end Kai Higgins (Chaffey College), Josh Okonye (Wake Forest) and Raymond Ellis (City College of San Francisco). Photos by Tom Campbell

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