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2017 Purdue Football Preview: Secondary

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The secondary has a lot of new pieces that need to come together.

NCAA Football: Purdue at Minnesota Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

So far it looks like Purdue’s defense looks semi-decent, at least on paper. A different (and actually competent) scheme will play to its greatest strength at linebacker. There are a couple of solid tackles and at least some talent at defensive end. The back four, however, appears to be the weak link.

And really, it is only a weak link because there are a lot of questions. Purdue has a JuCo transfer and a graduate transfer, and a walk-on in line to play a lot of minutes. They aren’t really proven, but if they are the best options available then I trust this new coaching staff. It is also very telling that 2-3 walk-ons could play a lot at cornerback when Darrell Hazell recruited a ton of cornerbacks.

Starters

S: T.J. Jallow – Jr.

S: Jacob Thieneman – Jr. (walk-on)

16 tackles, 1 INT

CB: Da’Wan Hunte – Sr.

67 tackles, 4 TFL, 6 PBUs

CB: Josh Okonye – Grad Transfer

65 tackles, 3 PBUs

On the one hand, you have a pair of senior corners that have a lot of experience. On the other, I am deeply concerned that the projected starting secondary has one career interception. A player like Jallow, however, can be an asset. He is a physical presence in the middle that we have been missing for quite some time. Coaches want him to be more active in the passing game, but he is known as a hard-hitter and he should be able make a difference in the middle of the field. If he can stop the infamous 3rd and 15 conversion left wide open over the middle I am all for it.

Okonye was a solid corner at Wake Forest that last three years and (I hate to say it) is the only player on the entire roster with a win over Indiana. He is a bigger corner than Hunte, who has had his moments, but is still a 5’9” corner. Thieneman is the surprise here. As a walk-on he doesn’t bring the physical tools, but coaches and the BTN crew raved about his instincts and motor. He had a big interception at Indiana last year and if he has earned his spot even as a walk-on I am all for it.

Top Reserves

S: Navon Mosley – So.

49 tackles, 1 PBU

S: Simeon Smiley – Fr. (RS)

CB: Antonio Blackmon – Jr. (walk-on)

9 tackles, 1 INT

CB: Josh Hayes – So.

13 tackles, 1 INT

Mosley losing his starting job to Thieneman is a surprise, but he can still play quite a bit in the nickel package. It will likely be either him or Blackmon there. Mosley ended up starting 10 games last season as a true freshman, so that experience will pay off.

Of these four Blackmon might be the best in coverage. The walk-on has earned a lot of playing time the past few seasons and he even had a big interception he almost returned for a touchdown at Minnesota last season. He will be a more than serviceable nickel corner when we need to go to three corners. Hayes started strong last year with an interception in the season opener as a true freshman, but was relatively quiet the rest of the year. He did make one start, at least.

A by-product of having such a young secondary last season is that a lot of guys got looks. I like that Mosley has experience and that Hayes could be a surprise. Still, it is very telling of Hazell’s recruiting that Purdue has two walk-ons within the two-deep and there is little question they are among our top eight defensive backs.

Other Reserves

CB: Kamal Hardy – Sr.

CB: Mike Little – So.

1 tackle

CB: Tim Cason – Jr.

21 tackles, 1 PBU

CB: Brandon Shuman – So.

CB: David Day – So. (walk-on)

CB: Race Johnson – Sr. (walk-on)

2 tackles

S: C.J. Parker – Sr. (out with torn ACL)

35 tackles, 3 TFLs, 1 INT

S: Wes Cook – Sr. (walk-on)

S: Brennan Thieneman – Fr. (RS) (walk-on)

S: Ronnie Hill – So. (walk-on)

S: Andy Chelf – So.

This is where the fact that two walk-ons are among the top eight guys is very telling. Hardy, Little, Cason, and Shuman were all players recruited by Hazell that could not beat out walk-ons. Parker and Chelf get a pass because Parker sustained a knee injury a few weeks ago and Chelf took a bullet after the spring game, but it is still telling.

Race Johnson has been a solid special teams player for the last two years and has earned a decent amount of playing time. He will still contribute there in his final season. Cason is a player that started a lot last season but appears to have had a horrible camps where he has fallen to at best the third team.

Incoming Freshmen

CB: Dedrick Mackey – Fr.

CB: Kenneth Major – Fr.

CB: Jacob Abrams – Fr.

We will know about the future of guys like Cason and Shuman if any of these three play right away. Jeff Brohm already has four more DBs coming with these three on campus. Purdue is still 5 scholarships over the limit for the 2018 season as well, with more commits coming in the class. SOMETHING will have to give and seems like DBs that were recruited by Hazell not panning out would be a natural spot for attrition.

Of these three Mackey was the highest rated recruit. He played in the Miami-Dade All-Star game last season and had 60 tackles with two interceptions at Booker T. Washington HS. He also had the game-clinching interception and was defensive Player of the Game in Booker T. Washington’s win over national powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas.

Overall Position Grade: C+

I really, really like the addition of Jallow at safety. I love that he is a hard hitter that might actually make teams think twice about going over the middle. Teams have converted countless 3rd downs over the middle of the field with very little resistance for years against Purdue. It has become so commonplace I expect it. If Jallow can make a difference there, I am all for it.

In terms of walk-ons I think you have Thieneman and Blackmon playing at the max of their abilities. I love that they are beating out the scholarship guys and have earned playing time. Unfortunately, it also means that several recruited guys are underperforming.

Overall the group is still unproven. Okonye and Hunte have experience and Jallow is a definite upgrade, but this still feels somewhat patchwork. Also, there are not a lot of interceptions here. I really hope that this group proves me wrong and exceeds expectations.