Yesterday we reviewed what one of the biggest weaknesses on the defense was in the linebackers. That weakness can be shored up by a defensive secondary that should be among the best in the Big Ten.
Danny Hope recruited in the secondary very heavily in his first few classes. He wanted speed and playmakers back there, and it has paid off. Three of the four regular starters in the secondary had interceptions that were returned for touchdowns. One of the starters is expected to be among the conference's best at cornerback if not the nation's best. It is a unit that not only has talent, but experience that goes deep into the bench as well.
Unfortunately, Purdue gave up over 3,000 passing yards last season and 21 touchdowns against 14 interceptions. Teams also averaged almost 12 yards per reception on Purdue despite having two of the league's better corners. Much of the problem was the same as it always was: Purdue was very vulnerable against bigger receivers and if it was a large TE you could forget about defending them.
The secondary was also not helped by a pass rush that was far below Purdue's regular standards. With an entirely new coaching staff it is time for the talent, which is there, to produce some serious results.
The starting group is as solid as they come. Feichter has impressed many by going from little known walk-on to starter that led the Big Ten in interceptions last year with four. He has used this offseason to get stronger and faster, something that was sorely needed at times last year. He led Purdue with 80 tackles, which is fine if they come near the line of scrimmage. Purdue's problem came from him making the tackle more as the last line of defense.
Allen was hampered by injuries last year and had a down year, but no one has as high of a motor as him on the team. With one more interception returned for a touchdown he will tie the all-time FBS career record for pick-sixes with five. Darrent Williams, Deltha O'Neal, Ken Thomas, and Jackie Walker each accomplished the feat five times. History says it will come against Michigan State since all four of his previous pick-sixes have come against M-schools (Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, and Marshall).
One knock on Allen is that he has been out of position often in his career. Still, he has been extremely successful with 200 career tackles, 11 pass break-ups, two sacks, and seven interceptions. He is also a vocal leader that gives Purdue a badly needed dose of swagger. Big things are expected of him this season.
Richards was decent last year with 51 total tackles while starting all 13 games at safety with Feichter. He is more of the free safety while Feichter is the strong safety. Richards is expected to have more freedom under Greg Hudson to make plays than he did in the past. Now that he has experience that all means he could be a breakout player on the defense.
The lone new starter in the secondary is Williams, who still played quite a bit last season in nickel packages. He replaces Josh Johnson, who was a Second team all-Big Ten selection. Williams is aggressive with 11 pass break-ups (the number Allen has for his career) and he added two interceptions with 45 tackles. Unfortunately, both he and Allen are 5'9", so the big receiver problem is still there.
Top Reserves: Normondo Harris - Sr., Antoine Lewis - Jr. Anthony Brown - So., Ashkan Mizani - Fr. (RS, walk-on).
In terms of depth you couldn't ask for more experienced players in Lewis, Harris, and Brown. All three saw extensive action last year with both Lewis and Harris capable of being a fine third corner in a nickel package. Brown is the lone safety of the three of them, but was good enough to play as a true freshman. The secondary lost some depth when E.J. Johnson moved from safety to receiver, but Mazani brings some intriguing skills as a walk-on.
Brown had 10 games of experience as a reserve and on special teams and he will primarily be backing up Feichter. He only had six tackles, but playing that early in his career will undoubtedly pay benefits.
Harris has been a starter in the past and played in 13 games in 2011 before being limited to just four last season. As a senior with 41 total tackles he is a serviceable replacement if needed.
Lewis will likely be the top reserve corner and player used in nickel packages. He played 12 games a year ago and had eight tackles, but two interceptions. His interception against Indiana was returned 50 yards almost for a touchdown.
I mentioned MIzani here mostly because people were intrigued by his film on his featured day a few weeks ago. He is a walk-on, but has been around for a year and could travel the same path as Feichter.
Purdue has some very solid freshmen coming in that might be able to contribute right away. The best among them, at least recruiting-wise, was Clark, who was a four-star prospect according to ESPN. He is 5'10". 175 and was a very solid player down in Miami in high school. Rated as an athlete, he could either be a safety or a corner.
Logan is definitely a safety that beings good size to the position and was one of the better rated safeties in the class of 2013. As for Hunte, we stole him at the last minute from California and he is also a very promising corner from Miami.
Purdue appears to have most of its depth at the corner positions, where it can legitimately go three deep. Safety is a bit of a concern, however. We don't have that big, nasty, fearsome safety that Stu Schweigert was during his career and that Bernard Pollard became. Feichter and Richards are good, but they are not elite.
T-Mill's Depth Chart:
Starters: Allen, Richards, L. Feichter, Williams (all locks)
Reserves: Harris, Brown, Lewis, Clark