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Gold and Black Illustrated Vol28, Digital1

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Page 23 of 74

GOLD AND BLACK ILLUSTRATED VOLUME 28, ISSUE 1 24 meant much if Holt couldn't find the right mix, if the players didn't welcome competition or realize the importance of versatility, if Pur- due's best unit didn't actually per- form that way this camp. Good news for Purdue: It was ev- erything it was expected it to be. Which probably means Holt will have all four players on the field at once often this season, shifting Ezechukwu to a hybrid linebacker/ defensive end role near the line of scrimmage, sliding McCollum into the weakside linebacker position, keeping Bentley in the middle and slipping Bailey into an outside spot where he'll have more coverage re- sponsibilities. "I feel very good about the four linebackers we have, the experi- ence they provide us and the lead- ership and the toughness," Coach Jeff Brohm said. "Whether there's three guys on the field and one is getting a rest or whether there's four guys on the field, both of those things will happen because those four are very, very good football players." McCollum didn't start camp with the first-team de- fense — Bailey was playing the weakside spot, which is an inside linebacker in Holt's defense. But McCo- llum knew he wouldn't stay with the 2s for long, not with his knowledge of the system and his considerable game experience. He certainly didn't come to Purdue to watch in his final season of eligibility, and by the second week of camp, he was getting more snaps with the 1s, and by the end, he'd changed the dynamic of the entire unit. "T.J. is as strong as he's ever been, as big as he's ever been and as fast as he's ever been," said Holt, who has a point of reference after coaching McCollum at WKU. "What he does is he knows our defense. So he knows how to play. He knows our expectations, and he knows how to take coaching. He's been through the ringer with us as a staff. He can take hard coaching, and he understands. He's won a lot of games. He has an expectation level of winning. So I think that will rub off. "The other kids are good players. I think we'll all blend pretty well together here." At the end of camp, Bentley said he liked how the group was responding to Holt's aggressive style, wheth- er that be blitzing from all different spots or allowing the linebackers to play physically in the run game as a priority before reacting to the pass, the opposite of the scheme last season. Holt harps on not just getting the call but being able to play the call — feeling comfortable enough in the responsibilities to be physical and fly to the football. The linebackers are helping the entire defense reach that goal. "Knowing if you miss a block or do something wrong, they have your back," defensive tackle Eddy Purdue Purdue likely will lean heavily on many of its newcomers. Junior college transfer receiver Isaac Zico could be one of the biggest offensive weapons, especially if he's able to make plays down the field.

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