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Gold and Black Illustrated Volume 28, Digital 5

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Page 13 of 60

GOLD AND BLACK ILLUSTRATED VOLUME 28, ISSUE 5 14 have started a single game. The inexperience showed up often during spring ball, in a variety of ways. During one practice in the middle of spring, Brohm actu- ally ordered the defensive unit off the field because it, again, couldn't get lined up properly or in a timely fashion. It was a particularly rough practice for the defense in that sense, one of the first ones in which coaches weren't actually on the field directing traffic. And the results weren't great. In another practice's individual periods, defensive line coach Reggie Johnson had to tell his group to get lined up for a drill five times before players obliged. Not exactly the kind of focus and attention to detail a coach would prefer from his players. Perhaps it's not surprising considering Johnson's two-deep for the bulk of the spring included four underclassmen without game experience and three upper- classmen and one underclassman who unofficially have played only a combined 189 defensive snaps in games. Maybe not surprising either, overhearing an assistant defensive coach say his day was like "working with 3-year- olds." The implication being they either don't listen or don't comprehend. Maybe a bit of both. It'd be hard to estimate how many times this spring a defensive position coach finished instructions with, "You understand?" "They're not as strong as you'd like, and they haven't played as much football as you'd like, so they're a little bit lacking from a technique and fundamentals standpoint," Johnson said of his group after the seventh practice. "They don't know a lot about what they're doing schematically. That sounds great, doesn't it? Other than that, they're great." Johnson was laughing, by that point, but he knows it's the reality of Purdue's current situation. Holt understands. "(It's a progression) of learning. Just more reps," he said. "The more they're going to see, the faster they're go- ing to play. I think obviously it comes down to more reps so when we see things, we're going faster. We're triggering quicker. A lot of that just has to do with getting more reps, more knowledge, so we're playing faster than we really are." The ultimate goal is to get the young players up to speed by the fall so Holt doesn't have to make sweeping changes to his preferred scheme. Ideally, he'd like to be an aggressive, attacking defense that can blitz from a variety of angles and confuse offenses by switching and disguising coverages. The latter part may be helped by more experience in the secondary, but, as Holt and Brohm know, there's a joint effort when it comes to defensive production. At least both feel good about the secondary exiting the spring, and that's thanks to the development, in part, of Mackey and Major. Cason, who has seven career starts but none last season, got better in man coverage, Holt said, so that was positive, too. And though Jacob Thieneman's absence because of a knee injury for at least half of the spring didn't help the unit's growth, his full season as a starter last year proved enough to the coaching staff that he can be trusted and counted on to make plays. So Thieneman paired with Mos- ley, a junior who'll be entering his third season as a starter and is coming off a fantastic spring, gives coaches room for hope. They understand, though, there's a trade-off, too, with how the defensive units play off each other. "I think our secondary has a chance to be better, but we may have to cover longer because I don't see what we need to see at this point (from the front seven)," Brohm said. "It doesn't mean it's not going to happen, but we have a ways to go with the front seven. While I think there's been improvement made and there's some good players, we're not at the level we were last year at this point." Brohm said it is too soon to say which coverage could best fit Purdue's personnel — last season, it was primar- ily a zone team — but he hopes the development of the secondary can allow the Boilermakers to maybe be more effective when it mixes things up. As effective as last season, though? That could be an ambitious goal. Holt's defense was one of the country's most improved a season ago. It allowed an average of 20.5 points per game (24th in FBS) and 375.5 yards (52nd). Those numbers like- ly will be difficult to replicate, though Holt said he thinks the unit can be "solid." Especially if young players Reviere, McWilliams, Marks, Kai Higgins, Barnes, Cornel Jones, Tobias Larry, etc., can have great summers. "Are we going to be great? No, we're not going to be great," Holt said late in the spring. "But we're going to play hard like we always do, and we'll surprise some people." j

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