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Purdue Football: Who is Back on Defense in 2018

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The defense is going to look quite a bit different.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 04 Illinois at Purdue Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

So, football season is officially over for our Boilermakers.

The defense was ranked top 25 nationally when it comes to points allowed. Making huge strides under first year defensive coordinator Nick Holt.

While obviously, most of these players played under Ross Els last year, Els was just not able to get the most out of them that he could. Nick Holt did that, he brought in a stop the run first scheme which fit perfectly for a team that was loaded at linebacker.

He made adjustments to the defensive line that changed the look and ability of our front four right away. When we were playing so well early in the season, I was curious, are we going to be able to sustain this all season?

Hell yes we did.

Nick Holt is one hell of a defensive football coach. He will have to work some magic again next year as he loses a ton on the defensive side of the ball. But, he also returns guys that got valuable experience who will be looked at to be impact players next season.

So, lets take a look first at who we are losing:

Defensive Line:

Gelen Robinson, Antoine Miles, Austin Larkin, Eddy Wilson (Possibly?)

- This was a group where most people only expected Gelen Robinson to do a ton this year. Well, he was moved from defensive end to defensive tackle and was an absolute man child against the run. Antoine Miles and Austin Larkin provided a solid pass rush, both will be missed. The variable is Eddy Wilson, he was not on the roster for the Bowl Game and his status is still up in the air.

Linebackers:

Garrett Hudson, T.J. McCollum, Danny Ezechukwu, Ja’Whaun Bentley.

- Ouch. How do we replace these guys? It is damn near impossible. Danny E was a hybrid LB/Rush End for us and was a beast. Bentley and McCollum are NFL prospects that should play on Sundays and Hudson was a glue guy that filled in for anyone if there was an injury. This is a position that may hurt next season.

Defensive Backs:

Kamal Hardy, Josh Okoyne, Da’Wan Hunte, Race Johnson, C.J. Parker, Wes Cook

- Hunte and Okoyne are the big losses here, both starting at corner and doing a great job for us all season. Johnson and Cook were solid special team guys. Parker rarely saw the field and when Hardy was given an opportunity against Nebraska, once Hunte got hurt, it was not pretty, “Stating he did not feel prepared to go in”. He did not play again after that.

So, that is what is leaving. Who is on the roster already that can help fill these voids? Or who is signed and coming in that could help as well.

Defensive Line:

Kai Higgins, Chazmyn Turner, Robert McWilliams, Giovanni Reviere, Ray Ellis, Anthony Watts, Alex Criddle, Lorenzo Neal, Keiwan Jones, Eddy Wilson (Maybe?), Lawrence Johnson, Kelvin Stokes Jr., Branson Deen, Jack Sullivan, Jeff Marks

- Kai Higgins is a guy that could fill in the void left by Antoine Miles and Austin Larkin. Neal, was a starter all year and that trend will continue into 2018. Ray Ellis started getting some playing time late in the season, he will be a senior next year and could be leaned on if Eddy Wilson is not back. As for the freshman, both Johnson and Stokes have bodies that look like college juniors. Jeff Marks is enrolling early and that could land him some early playing time.

Linebackers:

Markus Bailey, Sawyer Dawson, Cornel Jones, Semisi Fakasiieiki, Rob Simmons, Jonah Williams, Derrick Barnes, Tobias Larry, Jaylan Alexander

- The move will probably be to move Bailey to MLB to fill the void left by Bentley, where Bailey will really shine I think. He could be All-B1G two years straight from that spot. Rob Simmons probably fills that rush end/OLB combo that Danny E was this season. Sawyer Dawson will be a junior and will be expected to help. The linebackers that came here in the 2017 class, Jones, Larry and Barnes will be in the rotation. The coaches didn’t recruit LBS super hard outside of Alexander, showing they trust those three. Maybe they will look into grad transfer help here as well.

Defensive Backs:

Dedrick Mackey, Brandon Shuman, Tim Cason, Josh Hayes, Jacon Abrams, Mike Little, Simeon Smiley, Kenneth Major, Antonio Blackmon, Navon Mosley, Jacob Thieneman, Brennan Thieneman, T.J. Jallow, Andy Chelf, Kadin Smith, Elijah Ball, Byron Perkins, Cory Trice, Jordan Rucker

- I feel bad for the guys returning in the secondary, because these incoming freshmen are damn good. Elijah Ball, Jordan Rucker and Cory Trice are all guys I think could see the field early. Rucker is a lockdown corner from Texas, Ball is a versatile corner or safety from Ben Davis and Trice is a 6’3” safety that is a ball hawk in the middle of the field. They obviously would have to come in and beat guys out that have been here though. Jacob Thieneman is a lock to start, he was really good at Safety this year. But, it leaves two corner spots open with Hunte and Okoyne gone. Simeon Smiley got some work late in the year and player well. I really like Dedrick Mackey at the other corner spot or Antonio Blackmon who was a beast on special teams this year. Mosley played a lot of free safety this year and could start there again, but he had his flaws at times.

As you can see, we lose some pretty good football players. But, with Nick Holt as the DC and what we are bringing in or returning, I think there is more than enough to fill the voids that are being left. No, they probably won’t be as solid, but it won’t be terrible either.