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Gold and Black Illustrated, Vol 27, Digital 6

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GOLD AND BLACK ILLUSTRATED VOLUME 27, ISSUE 6 46 we do it every day now so that we can perfect our craft. We have more blitzes called for us to get to the quarter- back. One of the big emphases of our defense is to put pressure on." DB Purdue had concern about its secondary at the start of the spring. Rightfully so. The Boilermakers had issues in the back half of their defense last season, struggling to make basic plays, let alone the big ones. So Poindexter and cornerbacks coach Derrick Jackson sought to start making corrections in the spring, and though far from a finished product, the defensive backs might be significantly improved. "I think we're going to be a little better than what peo- ple expect," Holt said. "I think we'll surprise some peo- ple. I think we have a lot of bodies there and I think they might be the most improved group from spring." At least two positions appeared solidified before train- ing camp: Senior Da'Wan Hunte at cornerback and Jal- low, a junior J.C. transfer, at safety. The other two start- ing positions, plus the top nickel back, are less clear, but at least Purdue feels it has options. Junior Tim Cason was a No. 1 cornerback for much of the spring, after he made seven starts last season, but he's struggled at times in keeping the ball in front of him and instead allowing it to go deep over the top. Senior Kamal Hardy, who had shoulder surgery and was a non-contact participant during the spring (but got a lot of repetitions anyway), might be able to challenge for a bigger role, especially when healthy. And Antonio Black- mon has mixed in with the 1s and 2s since the beginning of last season. But a newcomer, Okonye, might get the first training camp crack at the top job. A grad transfer from Wake For- est, the 6-foot, 200-pounder played mainly safety and nick- el for the Demon Deacons over the last couple years, but Purdue wants him as a corner. Okonye is familiar with Jackson, as the assistant came to Purdue after a stint at Wake, and feels his knowledge — he had 36 tackles and three pass breakups as a junior — can help him transition to the Boilermakers quickly. "Having the increase in experience and a high football IQ helps me digesting some of these new plays," he said just before arriving on campus in June. "Not having to focus so much on the assignment, but you know more details, like why your assignment is this way. You can im- prove your game more because you're not only focused on what you're doing but on what is going on around you." If Okonye doesn't work out at cornerback — or is needed more elsewhere — he could get a shot at nick- el or free safety. It's the latter spot that Holt repeatedly stressed Purdue could use help. Navon Mosley played there as a true freshman, at least in the first eight games of the season before shifting over to nickel, and was the first-teamer for the spring. But Holt wants to see more playmaking out of the position. Mosley, who had 49 tackles last season but only one pass breakup, will get a shot to keep his job, but will have challengers, too. Reserves C.J. Parker and Jacob Thieneman could factor in, but the most intriguing prospect might be Simeon Smiley. The redshirt fresh- man rotated between nickel and safety during the spring, and certainly looks the part, a chiseled 6-foot, 200-pounder. But his know-how has to catch up. "(We're) hoping he can mature and handle it," Holt said. "Physically he can, he looks good and runs good and he has great range. He needs to do it every day, be tougher." Jallow, the strong safety, took a starting position early in training camp and didn't let it go. The former corner- back at East Mississippi Community College — "Last Chance U" on the Netflix series — is a 6-2, 198-pounder brings a presence Purdue otherwise lacks. He's willing to hit, even doing so at times during spring practice when it might have been wiser to lay off his own teammates. "T.J. is aggressive, he's very physical," Hunte said. "He knows how to play the ball in the air, but he seems to be at the right place at the right time. He brings a very physical presence to the defense. He has some speed as well that I think a lot of people will be able to see this fall." Jallow will be a centerpiece of Purdue's secondary, as will Hunte. The 5-9, 185-pounder is the Boilermakers' best coverage man, using his smarts — and above-av- erage closing quickness — to overcome some physical limitations. But after a season that started slowly due to an ankle

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