We have heard for several years that the secondary has been the strength of Purdue's defense due to its speed, but the deficiencies elsewhere has often left the back four out on an island. Several players have gotten some looks from the NFL, but those are mostly corners. At safety Purdue is on a run of three straight walk-ons that have out-preformed recruited scholarship players (Frank Duong, Logan Link, Landon Feichter). While I appreciate their contributions and the guys have earned their time. It is still a concern that we have whiffed on so many safeties after having Bernard Pollard and Stu Schweigert.
The Boilers also has to replace one of the best corners in not just the Big Ten, but in Purdue history after Ricardo Allen was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons. Even though most of the secondary returns, the loss of Allen is a big one.
Antoine Lewis - Sr. (CB)
Anthony Brown - Jr. (CB)
Taylor Richards - Sr. (S, must serve two game suspension)
Frankie Williams -Jr. (will fill-in for Richards, then may move back to corner)
Landon Feichter - Sr. (S)
This may be Purdue's most experienced area on the entire team. If you look at the previous six position groups there are freshmen and sophomores all over the place. Here, at least, Purdue has some guys who have been through the battles. They have also made a lot of tackles, mostly because the front seven has performed so poorly in front of them.
Brown had the most tackles last season of any returning player with 69. Richards had 64, Williams had 61, and Feichter had 24, but missed seven games. Brown has shifted over from safety to corner to replace Allen, while Lewis is a career reserve that is finally getting a chance to start. It is not that he isn't that good though. He has had guys like Allen and Josh Johnson blocking his way for several years.
Last season Purdue had 13 interceptions as a team, but Allen had six. Williams is the only other player that had more than one, with two. Feichter is notable, however, because he led the Big Ten with four in 2012 and even returned one for a touchdown. Unfortunately, he had two broken hands and a broken leg last year, leading me to call him The Black Knight in a Monty Python reference.
Overall this is a pretty solid group. It is long on experience and with any kind of a pass rush in front of them they might be able to do some special things.
Da'Wan Hunte - Fr. (RS)(CB)
Leroy Clark - So. (CB)
Austin Logan - So. (S)
Robert Gregory - So. (S)
This is another interesting group, where many of them got experience last season. One player I am excited to see is Robert Gregory. Like Sean Robinson, he has done a little bit of everything asked of him. He came to Purdue as a quarterback, converted to running back last year, and now had an impressive spring at safety. At 6'2", 216 pounds he could be the big-hitting safety that we have been missing for some time.
Logan (10 games, 14 tackles) and Clark (11 games, 17 tackles), both got some experience last season that should pay big dividends in case of injury. Logan even notched an interception. Hunte, as a redshirt freshman, enters as a bit of a mystery, but he was mentioned in a positive light several times in practice.
I really like Clark as a nickel corner that should get plenty of playing time, but that may diminish once Richards comes off of his suspension. It is very nice that both he and Logan have plenty of experience.
Tim Cason- Fr. (S)
Cedric Dale - Fr. (CB)
Brandon Roberts - Fr. (CB)
Evan Feichter - So. (S)
Dezwan Polk-Campbell - Fr. (RS)(S)
There is a lot of youth here with minimal experience. Cason, Roberts, and Dale could be headed toward a redshirt, especially since it was recently announced the Cason was shifting to safety (where he played in high school) from corner. Polk-Campbell is another big safety that could be an interesting prospect in time, especially with Landon Feichter in his final season.
Evan Feichter,the younger brother of Landon, will likely be a special teams contributor, but he did gain some minimal experience last season (three games, two tackles). It is impressive that he too is a walk-on that already earned playing time as a redshirt freshman. We certainly missed something in not giving the Feichter brothers a scholarship (though with a handful of extras this season it would be nice if Landon had one).
Of all these guys I really like Cason as a future prospect. He played for a state champion last season in Michigan and seems like he could be a true leader going forward. If he redshirts this year (and I suspect he will) he could be a breakout 2015 freshman.
The secondary is the area where Purdue lost its best player in Allen, but it also returns the most depth and experience. They just can't be left on an island to win games by themselves as has happened for far too long. The tackle numbers for the four starters last year were impressive, but the Big Ten is a league where you don't even sniff the all-Big Ten lists as a linebacker unless you have over 100 stops. The guys in front of the back four have got to start producing.
First, the linebackers have to be able to stop the run tackles by Landon Feichter and Taylor Richards are fine, but it also means they are coming 10-15 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. I want these guys getting interceptions and not tackles. Second, the defensive line has to get a pass rush. There wasn't much of one at all last season, so that led to fewer interceptions and again, more tackles by the secondary. Of the top three in the secondary in terms of tackles, only six came behind the line of scrimmage. They know they can't come up in run support because they have to hang back as the last line of defense.
Like so many other areas, this one could be a big strength, but only if the rest of the unit gets better.