When previewing Purdue football these days it is like looking at a bizarre version of the defense. From 2004 to 2014 Purdue was known to have subpar linebackers. No matter the year, it seemed like the Boilers couldn’t find three Big Ten caliber linebackers to put on the field. It was a massive deficiency that never seemed to be addressed in recruiting.
Fast Forward to last season and this season. Purdue seems to have a wealth of quality linebackers that could play on any team in the league. Unfortunately, the progression of offensive football often means that you can’t have three on the field at the same time because of match-ups. That’s why Purdue is shifting over to more of a 4-2-5 front this season.
This means a lot of guys will be available for a rotation, but some of Purdue’s most talented players will be on the bench.
Andy James Garcia – Sr. – Garcia is the type of player that would have been a multi-year starter during the late Tiller years and the Hope years. Credit needs to be given to linebackers coach Marcus Freeman there, as he has developed players that are better than Garcia, who is good in his own right, but has served mostly as a quality backup in his previous three years. Garcia has played in all 36 possible games during his career but only has nine starts. He finished last season with 63 tackles (third on the team), a sack, and a fumble recovery. He has also intercepted a pass in his career and has 83 tackles for his career. He is the type of guy that is a very valuable fill-in at any linebacker spot when the starters in front of him get banged up or need a breather. He’s not bad at all, but we just have better options.
Jimmy Herman – Sr. – One of the players Garcia replaced a decent amount last season was Herman, who battled hamstring issues all year and was limited to only eight games. Injuries also cost him a few games in 2014. Both Herman and Garcia are holdovers from the Hope era and Herman has 110 career tackles as a solid outside linebacker. He should play quite a bit when Purdue has three linebackers on the field, but may be the odd man out when the Boilers shift down to two.
Evan Pulliam – Sr. – The senior walk-on from Cathedral has been a consistent contributor on special teams the last two seasons and should do more of the same this year. He has five career tackles, four coming last season.
Ryan DeBusk – Sr – DeBusk is listed as “rush end” one of four players listed as such. They are kind of hybrid outside linebackers/defensive ends and I didn’t mention them in the defensive lineman preview. DeBusk is a fifth year walk-on that has yet to officially play, but was Academic All-Big Ten last season.
Ju’Whaun Bentley – Jr. – The beast in the middle, Bentley is probably the best linebacker Purdue has had in over a decade. He is absolutely critical to any of Purdue’s success in 2016. He finished fifth on the team with 49 total tackles and this was just in five games before a torn ACL cost him the final seven. As a true freshman in 2014 he burst onto the scene with 79 tackles and an interception. ESPN and USA Today even named him a true freshman All-American that year.
Bentley is what a middle linebacker should be: the heart and soul of the defense. Purdue absolutely needs him at the position and he looks to be 100% already, which is very good. Purdue’s defense wasn’t great last year, but it REALLY went south when Bentley got hurt. We simply cannot afford to lose a player of his caliber.
Garrett Hudson – Jr. – As I said on today’s countdown for Hudson, he is a valuable reserve with starting experience that has done well in spots in his career. Last year he was Bentley’s primary backup, but unfortunately he was not Bentley. He will contribute this year because he has so much experience.
Danny Ezechukwu – Jr. – The junior from Lithonia, GA has started 18 of 24 games the past two seasons and is probably Purdue best outside linebacker. That means he will likely get the most playing time of anyone outside of Bentley. Last year he had 79 tackles, a sack, an interception, and a 90-yard fumble return for the defense’s only touchdown of the year. He now has 122 tackles for his career with 2.5 sacks and 2 interceptions.
Dezwan Polk-Campbell – Purdue is so deep at linebacker that Polk-Campbell is probably a third stringer, but he still has nine games of experience with 7 tackles. That means we could see him in more of a special teams role.
Antoine Miles – Jr. – Miles is another rush end and he might have been Purdue’s best at the position last season. He started six games last year and finished with 28 tackles and four sacks. Those numbers could see him play a lot more as an end this season. Of course, a lot of his damage came in a nine tackle two sack game against Indiana State.
Austin Larkin – Jr. – Larkin is also a rush end and appears to be in line to be one of four starters on the defensive line. Last season he had 38 tackles and seven sacks at City College of San Francisco after playing in 2014 as a walk-on at Notre Dame. He is a player that seems to have blossomed greatly in the last four years and he offers an intriguing pass rush option.
Markus Bailey – Fr. (RS) – Bailey barely managed to hang on to his redshirt last season, as he played in three games and had 12 tackles before tearing his ACL. That means he is now the rare freshman with at least some game experience. He should be one of Purdue’s best outside linebackers and will likely be right behind Ezechukwu and Herman for playing time.
Chazmyn Turner – Fr. (RS) – The fourth and final rush end, Turner was arrested last October for alcohol and weed along with Wyatt Cook. He is a developmental player that may not get a lot of playing time this year because there are so many in front of him.
Sawyer Dawson – Fr. (RS) – Dawson is a three-star recruiting coming out of his redshirt year. Like many others mentioned here, it would seem he is no higher than third team on the depth chart right now.
Semisi Fakasiieiki – Fr. – The only true freshman linebacker on the team, he is a big body that is almost certainly headed towards a redshirt as a developmental player. He did have 80 tackles and an impressive four defensive touchdowns last season, however.