Defense was supposed to be Purdue's strong suit in 2011 as the offense dealt with continued quarterback issues and relatively inexperienced receivers. We returned experienced at every position and some actual depth for once, but instead, the results were somewhat underwhelming. There were some good points, such as the Ohio State game and the first half of the Illinois game. For the most part, however, the defense was underwhelming. In fact, there were games where it was downright bad such as against Michigan and Wisconsin.
The truth is that we're not going to improve our standing in the conference until we can at least slow down teams like Wisconsin and Michigan. We had too many games this year where receivers were running wide opening as if there was no coverage at all. I can understand it happening once because of a great individual talent. But when Michael Floyd, Marvin McNutt Jr., and Jordan White are running rampant across the middle of the field with no coverage in sight, that is proof we have made the conscious decision to ignore some of the opposition's best players. We also have proof that we can stop good receivers, as we did a good job on A.J. Jenkins just weeks after he was torching secondaries and for once Roy Roundtree didn't make us his bitch.
The same was true with the running game. We slowed down some, but Montee Ball, Marcus Coker, and Fitzgerald Toussaint had little trouble going crazy against us. That is why I don't think it is a great loss that we're replacing defensive coordinator Gary Emanuel and linebackers coach Phil Elmassian.
Both had areas of specialty on the defense that were disappointing. Emanuel also served as the defensive line coach, but aside from Ryan Kerrigan (who was a superior individual talent) there was a lack of a consistent pass rush. Also, when I watch college football, many teams do a good job of mixing up blitzes to confuse blitzes. That also goes on the linebackers coach, as I can't remember the last time the blitz was used as an effective weapon. We have very little movement before the snap, which is what a lot of good defenses have.
The replacements for Emanuel and Elmassian will hardly be coming in with an empty cupboard. Ricardo Allen and Josh Johnson give us two of the better corners in the Big Ten. Landon Feichter and Max Charlot return to the secondary, but players like E.J. Johnson and Ishmael Aristide may get a shot to replace Albert Evans.
Two starting linebackers return if Dwayne Beckford gets his head on straight, but Mike Lee and Joe Gilliam will likely try to replace Joe Holland. The defensive line also loses only one starter in Gerald Gooden, with Ryan Russell emerging as the next big prospect and a four-star high school prospect in Ryan Watson entering.
These guys are the building blocks of a unit that will have talent and experience, but they will need guidance in the form of solid coaching. Boiled Sports has mentioned Terrell Williams as a possible DC, and that would be an excellent choice. He was on our staff from 2006-09 as defensive line coach and is currently in limbo as part of Kevin Sumlin's staff. Sumlin, as you know, is transitioning to Texas A&M, and given that he helped developed two second round NFL Draft selections and a first round pick (Mike Neal, Alex Magee, and Kerrigan) we know he can develop talent already in the stable.
As for the linebackers, BS mentioned former Purdue linebacker Kirk Olivadotti as a prospect. He has been in the NFL before and is currently at Georgia. The Bulldogs had a fairly solid defense in the SEC, but it also could be that a lot of SEC offenses are bad.
These are also important hires because it will say a lot about the timbre of the athletic department and coaching staff as to who we get. The dwindling attendance and general fan angst are not good signs going forward, so Hope and company could finally be forced to go after a slightly bigger name than normal. The general consensus among the Hope haters is that we needed a change at coordinators if Hope was staying. Well, they are getting their wish.