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2014 Purdue Football Preview: Defensive Line

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Is Purdue going to have a pass rush? It is almost as important as the offensive line coming through in 2014.

Jonathan Daniel

Last year Purdue's defense was bad, especially against the run, but I theorize that it was often a byproduct of the horrendous offense. In terms of Tim of Possession the defense was on the field an average of five minutes longer than the offense. In several games (Cincinnati, Notre Dame, Iowa, Michigan State, and Illinois to name five) Purdue either led or was within a score at halftime. In all of those, the offense did little-to-nothing the rest of the way, scoring a total of 23 points in the second half of those games combined. Two points game on a safety given up on purpose by Illinois and seven on a TD in the final minute against Iowa when we were already down 38-7.

That's a long, long time for the defense to be out there without any support, and naturally, it ran out of gas on multiple occasions. Purdue was also hurt by having a lackluster pass rush (only 14 while giving up 38) and a porous defense that gave up third down conversions at a staggering rate of 57%.

Improvement has to begin up front, and Purdue is at least trying something new with more of a 3-4/4-3 hybrid set.

Starters:

Ryan Russell - Sr. (End)

Ra'Zahn Howard - So. (Nose)

Jake Replogle - So. (Tackle)

Ryan Russell had a solid freshman year and had some good tackles to play with the last two years, but has struggled mightily. He had 35 tackles, but only 5.5 for loss and just two sacks. The senior has been pegged as a breakout player by many Big Ten pundits for years, but this is his last chance to deliver/ There is some promise. He had a great spring (with more sacks in the spring game than he had all last season) and he is doing well this fall. If he can finally be a dominant player it should help the third down conversion rate at minimum.

Howard narrowly avoided a major injury in the first week of fall camp and appears to be on line for starting from day one. Last year he, along with Replogle, were thrown into the fire as true freshmen in the middle and they asserted themselves well even with the odds stacked against them. Howard had four tackles and a sack, but he is a Ticonderoga-class tackle at 6'3", 323 pounds. Replogle did a little better at the other tackle spot with 13 tackles and a tackle for loss in only seven games.

These guys are young, but there is some promise.

Top reserves:

Evan Panfil - So. (End)

Ryan Watson - Jr. (Nose)

Michael Rouse III- Jr. (Tackle)

Langston Newton - So. (End)

Jalani Phillips - Sr. (End)

Panfil was the third of three true freshmen thrown to the wolves last year and he had five tackles in seven games as a reserve. Like Howard and Replogle, he has a lot of promise even though though he lacks experience.

Rouse and Watson are both possibly their last chances if they're going to play. Rouse has moved to offense and now back to defense, while Watson is a former four-star commit that honestly hasn't done that much. He started four games last season and had eight tackles, but to this point has been mostly a reserve. He will provide key depth, however.

Phillips is in an interesting position, as he is currently listed as the rush-end and he'll be the hybrid guy in the 3-4/4-3 mix. Sometimes he'll be a down lineman, and other time he'll be up as a linebacker. This should be a good slot for him, as he had a pair of sacks last year.

Finally, Newton is a transfer from Kentucky that is immediately eligible due to a hardship waiver. He has three years of eligibility and was one of the top players in the state of Indiana in 2012 before going to Kentucky. He didn't play in two years in Lexington though.

Freshmen:

John Strauser (RS)

Johnny Daniels (RS)

Keiwan Jones

Antoine Miles (RS)

Will Comery

Both Daniels and Jones are tackles while Strauser is an end. Daniels and Strauser were both with the program last year so that experience should be quite valuable. The same is true for Miles, who has been mentioned a few times in fall camp and could get some valuable experience if we ever get in a blowout win (yes, I can dream).

Jones is a three-star commitment that is probably going to redshirt just because of the depth ahead of him as well as Colmery.

Final Analysis:

If things get better this year, Purdue has a bright future with only Russell and Phillips as seniors. I really like the trio of Panfil, Howard, and Replogle for the future and Jones was a recruit that I got excited about when he committed. There should be some talented depth there not just this year, but in future years as well.

How will it hold up though? There has to be at least the threat of a pass rush, especially on third downs, because last year opposing quarterbacks had all the time in the world to throw to the inevitable wide open tight end over the middle. The Ohio State game was the worst example, when Jeff Heuerman, who had only 35 receptions in his career, had five catches for over 100 yards and a score.

Watching third downs in Purdue games last year was such a study in what Purdue was doing wrong. Our own quarterbacks were running for their lives almost as soon as they got the snap, while Purdue rarely, if ever, pressured opposing quarterbacks. Someone like Russell has to be a threat. Ryan Kerrigan is not walking through the locker room door and single-handedly creating a pass rush, so it has to come from somewhere.