We need a pass rush.
In those five words I have summed up the biggest problem for Purdue during the Darrell Hazell era. Over the past two decades Purdue has sent countless defensive ends to the NFL. Ryan Kerrigan was the latest big name and he just GOT PAID, but one of the biggest problems when he was at Purdue was the other 10 guys on the field struggled. We never had good linebackers with him and the secondary was often left out to dry because of it.
Now Purdue has the pieces in the back seven and some good defensive tackles, but there has been virtually no pass rush. This is why I cringe on every 3rd and long because I know there will be no pressure and a quarterback can calmly wait for the middle of the field to come open for an easy conversion. As a result, the entire defense cannot get off the field and wears down over time. Purdue defensive third down stop rate has been HORRID under Hazell:
2014: Teams converted 84 of 181 against Purdue (46%)
2013: Teams converted 95 of 168 against Purdue (56%)
Last season Purdue improved its conversion percentage by 10% and was still comfortably dead last in the Big Ten. It also was second to last in the Big Ten with only 20 sacks. By comparison, Wisconsin only gave up 28.6% of third down conversion to lead the Big Ten. I would argue that Purdue is actually better at stopping third and short situations because it can stack against the run than it is at stopping 3rd and 10 or longer because I know there won't be any pass rush and teams can pick us apart.
So, yes, Purdue DESPERATELY needs a pass rush from the defensive line. Even if it doesn't result in a sack, rushing a quarterback can lead to an incompletion, a fumble, an interception, ANYTHING that is not a long gain over the middle to a tight end. That is why the defensive line is so critical to any success this year. It needs to be disruptive, especially on third downs.
DE: Evan Panfil - Jr.
Career stats: 14 tackles, 2 TFL
DT: Jake Replogle - Jr.
Career stats: 53 tackles, 11.5 TFL, 3 sacks
NT: Ryan Watson - Sr.
Career stats: 27 tackles 6.5 TFL, 4 sacks
DE: Shayne Henley - Jr.
Three of the four spots appear to be set. Replogle has developed really nicely and will likely be the leader of this unit. Watson is a former 4-star commit that has done well on the interior and he had a team high 4 sacks last year, but they were all very early on in the first four games. Panfil has been quiet, but his position is more of a run stopper as opposed to a guy that rushes the quarterback. Still, if he can get off the end and into the backfield more that would be great.
The fourth spot is one of the biggest question marks on the entire team. It was supposed to be Gelen Robinson, but he is sitting out the first 2-4 games due to his summer dumbassery. That puts it completely up for grabs between Henley and Antoine Miles. Right now Miles is atop the depth chart, but I am hearing some good things about Henley in the early practices. He was also brought in as a JuCo transfer to be an immediate solution. He is a big, mean dude at 6'3" 265, giving him almost 30 pounds on Miles. Most people say he has the physical tools to be a solid defensive end. I just need him to be disruptive in the backfield. That should be his only job.
DE: John Strauser - So.
Career stats: 1 tackle
DT: Michael Rouse III - Sr.
Career stats: 14 tackles, 2.5 TFL
NT: Ra'Zahn Howard - Jr.
Career stats: 24 tackles, 1 TFL, 2 sacks
DE: Antoine Miles - So.
This is a good group of backups. Rouse and Howard will actually play quite a bit in the middle, giving Purdue four solid tackles that can be interchangeable. Strauser has played mostly special teams to this point, so more is expected of him if Panfil can't do much. As mentioned above, Miles is in line to hold down Robinson's spot until he returns from suspension. He hasn't played at all, but he has an advantage over Henley because he has been in Purdue's system for two years. He is a former three-star recruit that will be seeing his first action at least some time in the first four games. It remains to be seen just when and where that will be.
I like that Rouse and Howard give Purdue plenty of depth. They are also experienced players, as both have been playing for at least two years. They help make the defensive tackle spots the deepest on the team.
Special "Go sit in the corner and think about what you've done" section.
DE: Gelen Robinson - So.
Career stats: 20 tackles, 4 TFL, 2 sacks
With a pair of alcohol-related offenses in less than two years on campus I think it is safe to say that Robinson is on very thin ice. In fact, I would bet that he would already be off the team if not for the fact that he is the most-touted defensive recruit Purdue has gotten in a long time AND his dad happens to be one of the greatest athletes in Purdue history. Robinson is sitting at least two games because of his summer DUI, and possibly four depending on how he handles camp.
It is very likely that Robinson is Purdue's best option at rush end. He played mostly as a reserve last year, but as a true freshman who was still learning a lot he had 20 tackles and a pair of sacks. It is not a question of he will start, but when. It seems likely that Henley or Miles are merely keeping his spot warm before his return. Robinson has the potential to be really, really damn good. I just want him to knock off the off-the-field stuff and would prefer if he also dropped wrestling and track to concentrate solely on football.
Langston Newton - Jr.
Will Schott - Jr.
Ryan DeBusk -Jr.
Chazmyn Turner - Fr.
Of these four DeBusk and Schott are walk-ons while Newton is a transfer from Kentucky that has yet to really play for Purdue. He did win a state championship in HS with starting linebacker Jimmy Herman and reserve cornerback Race Johnson, however. There is some promise that he could contribute.
Turner has been mentioned as a player that could play at rush end immediately. He is undersized right now, but he is very quick off the edge, and that might give him an early look.
Fred Brown - Fr.
Eddy Wilson - Fr.
Keiwan Jones - Fr. (RS)
Will Colmery - Fr. (RS)
Johnny Daniels - So.
There is a lot of youth here. Brown and Wilson are almost certain to redshirt and we won't hear from them for awhile. Jones and Colmery are no higher than third on the depth chart as well as Daniels.