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Purdue Boilermakers Football Preview: A look at the 2016 defense

The Purdue Boilermakers of 2016 have a big hill to climb after a 3-9 season in 2015, and a lot of that hill comes from a defense that simply couldn’t stop the other team from scoring. Even in the lone Big Ten victory over Nebraska, Purdue’s defense still gave up 45 points.

Change has to happen internally, and without the two best players from that defense last season in defensive backs Frankie Williams and Anthony Brown. With those two out of the picture thanks to graduation, Purdue has to find other ways to stop opposing offenses from going nuts on them once again.

Can time and reps help a pass rush that was pretty brutal? What about a rush defense that was second to last in the B1G last season? Simply put, the Boilermakers have a lot of holes to fill and production improvements to make in 2016.

But, how will that happen if at all? Let’s look at those who may make it happen here in 2016.

 

Defensive Line

There are two sides to every coin, and that certainly is the case with the Purdue defensive line. On the one hand, it has some star potential up the middle and on the other hand the stats say it needs some big time work on pass rushing and rushing defense.

A great example of that is junior defensive tackle Jake Replogle, who had 60 tackles and 14.0 tackles for loss last season. But, he had just 2.0 sacks and no one on the team had more than 4.0 sacks total (21.0 as a team). He needs to step up, especially with former fellow starter Ra’Zahn Howard opting to transfer from the program following spring football. That means names like sophomores Eddy Wilson and Keiwan Jones have to step up to the plate.

As for the ends and the hopes of creating some pass rush? Just like Replogle needs to step up inside, so does fellow junior, Gelen Robinson, on the outside. He’ll be joined by another underwhelming performer that needs to step up in senior Evan Panfil.

There also isn’t a lot of quality in depth and the hope will be that names like JUCO transfer Austin Larkin and incoming freshmen defensive tackles Anthony Watts and Lorenzo Neal step up quickly to fill the voids on the depth chart.

Linebackers

One name and one name only should be on your mind when it comes to the Purdue Boilermakers linebacking group — Ja’Whaun Bentley. That’s not saying much, considering he racked up just 49 tackles last season…until you realize that total came in just five games. He’s back and better than ever after a stellar spring.

If Purdue’s defense is going to up the ante in rush defense, Bentley’s presence in the middle is going to have a lot to do with it.

Surrounding Bentley at linebacker will likely be senior Jimmy Herman (SAM) and junior Danny Ezechuwku (WILL). The latter comes in to this season as the second leading tackler from last season (79), but had just 2.0 tackles for loss and 1.0 sacks last season. Again, numbers that must change if this team is going to do anything defensively.

Depth on the outside could come from Markus Bailey, who got his feet wet as a freshman last season with nine tackles in just two games played. Outside of that, this a group that doesn’t have much to write home about and a lot to prove.

Secondary

Purdue could really have used another season out of star defensive back Frankie Williams, but that isn’t going to happen. Neither is the return of last seasons best defensive back, Anthony Brown, who led the team with four interceptions. Life without him will be interesting for the Boilermakers defensive backfield without them.

Leading this group has to be senior safety Leroy Clark, who finished last season as one of just three Boilermakers with multiple interceptions to his name. Stepping in to Williams’ shoes will be senior Robert Gregory who did have 50 tackles, an interception and a fumble recovery in backup duty last year.

Cornerback will be a real interesting situation for this team, but it appears junior Da’Wan Hunte will take over on one side and Tim Cason will be on the other side. Depth is a concern based on a lack of experience across the cornerback position, but inexperience doesn’t mean there isn’t quality necessarily.

We’ll all get to find out together as the season goes on, that’s for sure.

 

Questions Still to Be Answered

Can Jake Replogle Be Enough in the Middle?

If there is a star on the Purdue defensive line, it is Replogle and even that could be a stretch. While he can get behind the line of scrimmage, the lack of help around him led to numbers that were completely out of whack. He clearly couldn’t do it alone last season, but with his fellow starter from last year gone he may have to find a way to do it again or this team will suffer the same bad pass rush and porous rush defense it did a season ago.

Are Youngsters Ready at Cornerback?

After putting out some of the best cornerbacks the Big Ten has seen over the last decade or so, Purdue turns that spot over to a lot of potentially talented but equally inexperienced cornerbacks. The good news is that Da’Wan Hunte showed out in the spring and could be the next star at cornerback for the Boilermakers. Beyond that, this group has a lot of unknowns that need to show quickly they are capable of handling Big Ten wide receivers.

Our Projected Starters

DE: Gelen Robinson, Jr.
DT: Jake Replogle, Jr.
DT: Eddie Wilson, So.
DE: Evan Panfil, Sr.
OLB:
MLB:
OLB:
CB: Da’Wan Hunte, Jr.
FS: Leroy Clark, Sr.
SS: Robert Gregory, Sr.
CB: Tim Cason, So.

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He's a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball

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