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2017 Purdue Football Preview: Defensive Line

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Purdue’s defensive line needs to be A LOT better in 2017.

NCAA Football: Purdue at Illinois Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

We will know very early on if the defensive line is going to be a strength, because it will be the key to any potential upset of Louisville next Saturday in Indianapolis. Lamar Jackson is an amazing talent, but his offensive line is crap. Against Houston last year he was hit early and often, throwing him off of his game and leading the Cougars to an upset. If the defensive pine plays out of its mind it is probably the best case scenario for Purdue against the Cardinals.

There is some talent there too. Purdue looks like it has two very good defensive tackles. There needs to be more of a rush on the end, but Danny Ezechukwu (not included here since he is still an LB) can alleviate that concern. Clearly, Purdue has a way to go. Last season teams ran for days on Purdue because the run defense was so poor. New defensive coordinator Nick Holt is changing things around though. The defense looked a lot better in the spring and so far it has been better in fall camp.

Will it translate to on the field? We’ll see.

Starters

DE: Antoine Miles – Sr. (5)

28 tackles, 4 sacks

DT: Eddy Wilson – Jr.

46 tackles, 2.5 sacks

DT: Gelen Robinson – Sr.

113 tackles, 8.5 sacks

DE: Austin Larkin – Sr.

18 tackles, 2.5 sacks

There is certainly experience up front, though Miles is the odd one out. After making six starts and leading the team in sacks in 2015 He didn’t play a down last year. There is no clear reason why, either. He spent the year with the Scout team, but coach Brohm has brought him visibly back into the fold and it seems like he will start.

Robinson is still listed as an end, but it looks like he will play more at tackle. That’s a very good thing too. He doesn’t have great speed for an end, but he has the size and strength to do some damage in the middle. Wilson is probably the best defensive linesman on the team too, so that gives Purdue a pretty good duo in the middle.

On the other end it looks like Larkin, who has battled injuries in his brief time at Purdue, is the best option. If neither Miles nor Larkin can get much of a pass rush it seems like Ezechukwu would come in there as a hybrid DE/LB. Both Larkin and miles have promise, but need to do more. As seniors, this is their last shot.

Top Reserves

DE: Kai Higgins – Jr.

DT: Lorenzo Neal – So.

11 tackles, 1 sack

DT: Alex Criddle – So.

1 tackle

DT: Ray Ellis –Jr.

The good news is Purdue has some good bodies to rotate at tackle, which is a demanding position. Neal and Criddle are both big bodies that played as true freshmen last season. Ellis was brought in as a JuCo transfer too and should get some immediate playing time. All three are comfortably over 300 pounds and will help to plug holes in the middle of a run defense that was very leaky all season.

The end position is where I am concerned, however. The depth chart given by GBI in their preview magazine had Ezechukwu as one of the top end backups. Higgins is another JuCo transfer brought in to play immediately, but there is just not a ton of proven production there. Purdue has not had a double-digit sack end since Ryan Kerrigan. No one has really come close, either. If needed, Robinson can still play outside, but someone has to step up, be it Miles, Larkin, Ezechukwu, or Higgins. This might be the position where Purdue has the least amount of depth.

Other Reserves

DE: Mike Zeigler – Jr. (walk-on)

DE: Chazmyn Turner – So.

DT: Anthony Watts – Fr. (RS)

DT Keiwan Jones – Jr.

Turner had some promise at the end position, but tore his ACL in spring football and will miss the season. It will be the third straight season where he has not played at all. Watts is coming out of his redshirt and could potentially play at end, so he might be a needed reserve. Jones has played in one game during his first three years at Purdue, but has had a good motor even if he is a little undersized as a defensive tackle. Zeigler is a transfer from Southern Illinois and is a mystery.

True Freshmen

DE: Robert McWilliams III – Fr.

DE: Giovanni Reviere – Fr.

DT: Allen Daniels – Fr.

Will one of these two ends play out of sheer necessity? Reviere was playing both offense and defense for his high school last year and could at least get to the quarterback with three sacks and seven hurries. McWilliams was an all Miami-Dade County selection last season with 75 tackles and 10 sacks, so if he has shown a lot in the fall camp here there is definitely a spot for him. I can see him redshirting, however, because he is listed at 6’4” 210 pounds, which is laughably undersized for a defensive end in the Big Ten.

Finally, Daniels seems almost certain for a redshirt because of the depth at tackle in front of him.

Final Position Grade: C-

I really like Robinson and Wilson at tackle. I think that is a great duo and, as long as Neal and Criddle or Ellis can be more than solid backups to let them rest some, it will greatly improve the middle of the run defense. There is a lot to like there.

That said, the defensive end position looks like a disaster. There is no proven talent there, so you’re asking Holt and Brohm to come in and immediately transform guys who were not that good a season ago. It has to be better, but only because it really can’t get a lot worse.