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2016 Purdue Football Preview: Defensive Line

Is Randy Melvin going to be the solution for Purdue’s defensive line woes?

NCAA Football: Iowa at Purdue Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

We have heard the same refrain for years. Well, we have heard TWO refrains for years:

1. “Purdue needs more of a pass rush!”

2. “Player X (Often Ryan Russell, Gelen Robinson, Evan Panfil, or someone like that) is poised to really break out this season!”

Instead, the pass rush has sucked. The Den of Defensive Ends has been in hibernation. Teams have passed with impunity on third downs because opposing quarterbacks have all day to set down their coffee and scan the field for an open receiver on third and long.

Purdue has not had a player with more than four sacks in a season since Kawann Short in 2012. It has not had a double-digit sack season from a player since Ryan Kerrigan won Defensive Player of the Year in 2010. That’s beyond sad for a school that prides itself on producing elite pass rushers.

It is not like the talent has been missing, either. Russell got his way to the NFL as the most recent member of the Den. Gelen Robinson entered as a highly touted pass rusher. What Purdue has at the position has been greatly misused, and last season’s terrible run defense was also an indictment on the poor state of the defensive line. That all could change this year because of one person, however.

Randy Melvin is back

Melvin is, in essence, the godfather of the Den of Defensive Ends. He served as the defensive line coach for the first three years under Tiller and developed a line that unleashed terror on opposing quarterbacks. Let’s ask former Heisman runner-up Michael Bishop what he thinks of Melvin:

That’s Rosevelt Colvin and Chike Okeafor reeking bloody havoc on one of the best players in the country at the time. Their position coach is now back at Purdue with some talent to work with.

Jake Replogle – Sr. – DT – Purdue does not have many all-Big Ten candidates on the roster, but Replogle is one of the few. The 6’5” 289 pound defensive tackle had three older brothers play in the Big Ten at Indiana, but Jake might be the best after getting picked on by said older brothers growing up. Last season he was 4th on the team in overall tackles with 60 and he was the only player with double digit tackles for loss at 14. He has 24 consecutive starts in his career and is one of the unquestioned team leaders. Basically, Purdue absolutely needs him to be an all-Big Ten level type of player, and he is capable.

Evan Panfil – Sr. – DE – Panfil seems to be on the Ryan Russell plan at Purdue. It always seems like he is poised to break out and be dominant, but it has yet to happen. Last season he had 30 tackles and four sacks for his best season as a Boilermaker. We need more though. He is a big, strong end that GBI has said is benefitting greatly from Melvin:

Often last season, Panfil would rely on power to bull-rush offensive tackles and get into the backfield. That was, really, his pass rush go-to.

Until Randy Melvin came along.

Melvin wanted Panfil to show more variety, not just barrel down the middle of tackles. Not surprisingly, then, Panfil’s point of emphasis over the last six months or so has been developing more pass rush moves. Especially knowing how desperately Purdue’s defensive front needs to generate pressure on the quarterback.

Sounds like basic coaching that Melvin’s predecessor completely failed at. “You mean bull-rushing a 320 pound offensive tackle isn’t working? Well, try it again!”

Shayne Henley – Sr. – DE – Henley was brought in last season as a stopgap JuCo transfer to give Purdue another experienced player on the end. He finished with nine tackles and a sack. Most of that work came early on in the season, so it would seem like he is stuck at the “quality reserve” level.

Langston Newton – Sr. – DE – Newton is officially listed as an end but in some sets so far he is lining up as a tackle. That could be good for him. The he played early last season and even forced a big fumble at Marshall, but has not done a lot since transferring from Kentucky in 2014.

Gelen Robinson – Jr. – DE – Look, I am just going to be blunt here: Robinson needs to remove his head from his ass and play football. He is ridiculously talented as a player, but all we have heard for two years now it off the field incidents (two arrests) and “he has problems with his motor”. We already saw some of it when he started fall camp on the third team. This guy has all-Big Ten talent, but he needs a firm boot up his ass to get him motivated. In two years he has 31 tackles and 3.5 sacks, but when you see him you know he can do so much more. As a four-star recruit more is expected of him, too. Hopefully Melvin gets through to him because a fully motivated Robinson could be dangerous.

Austin Larkin - Jr. - DE - Larkin has taken a circuitous route to Purdue. He originally played as a special teams player when he walked on at Notre Dame in the footsteps as his dad. He then transferred to San Francisco City College, where he played well enough to earn a scholarship at Purdue. As for those all high and mighty about “accepting Notre Dame’s castoffs” relax. This kid earned playing time as a walk-on true freshman at a program that is light years ahead of us right now. Get over yourselves.

Larkin has already been on campus awhile, going through spring practice. he has earned a potential starting job and should be, at minimum, a contributor. Considering his cousin is current NBA player Shane Larkin, his dad played at Notre Dame, and his uncle is MLB Hall of Famer Barry Larkin I am going to say he has the genes to be a good athlete.

Eddy Wilson – So. – DT – Today’s featured player, Wilson is expected to be a starter in the middle alongside Replogle and he looks like a good one. He definitely has the size to be a monster defensive tackle in this league. We just need him to be productive against the run. Let Replogle and the ends get to the quarterback. Just hold down the middle, Eddy.

Keiwan Jones – So. – DT – Jones tore his ACL last season but has reportedly come on well in camp so far. He is battling Wilson to start next to Replogle, which is good. We can definitely use the depth because no one is proven beyond Replogle. The harder Jones pushes, the better, because it means he will play as a reserve at minimum.

Will Colmery – So. – DT – Colmery had a freaking brain tumor removed in the offseason, so his status is up in the air at best. He is trying to work his way back to football, however, so if he plays he deserves a standing ovation.

Mike Zeigler – So. – DE – Zeigler is a walk-on transfer from Southern Illinois that went 29-0 in high school as part of a two-time 5A state champion. His dad is a former Purdue player and he will have to sit this season as a transfer.

Tim Faison – Fr. (RS) – DE – Faison has missed the last few practices battling a concussion but has been getting some looks as a reserve defensive end. He has actually switched positions from linebacker to defensive end, so he is still learning the position, too.

Wyatt Cook – Fr. (RS) – DE – Cook is pretty much in the same boat as Faison. He has moved to DE from linebacker during his redshirt season and has a little ways to go before seeing the field.

Fred Brown – Fr. (RS) – DT – Brown is coming out of a redshirt year and is one of several players battling for time at defensive tackle. He may have to hold off a couple of true freshmen. In his senior season he had an impressive 83 tackles, 10 sacks, four blocked field goals, and four forced fumbles.

Rob Simmons – Fr. – DE – We’re still not sure Simmons is even coming. An incredibly lean 215 pounds for an end, he did well at Valley forge Military Academy but he still “has a project to complete” academically. Regardless, he has redshirt written all over him.

Lorenzo Neal – Fr. – DT – The son of a long-time NFL fullback for the Chargers, Neal comes to Purdue with a massive 6’2” 345 pounds frame that might have him play immediately as a reserve. As long as he has some conditioning we can expect to see him as a big body in the middle.

Anthony Watts – Fr. – DT – Watts and Neal, both from Houston, have reportedly bonded well off the field and formed a great friendship. That should go a long way towards helping Purdue up front, as Watts is another true freshman looking for playing time at defensive tackle.

Alex Criddle – Fr. – DT – Our third true freshman that might play is Criddle. He is another big boy, this time from Oklahoma. He brought in a number of awards from his final season as one of the best defensive linemen in his state, so we could see him on the field early.