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Purdue Football: What I’m Looking For in a Defensive Coordinator - Part 2

Yesterday it was all about scheme, today I’m talking about building depth.

NCAA Football: Nebraska at Purdue Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

I’ll skip the intro since y’all got it yesterday. If you missed the first installment of this mini-series, you can find it here.

If bringing in (or promoting) a coach with schematic versatility is first on my wish list, a coach who is willing to build functional depth on defense is a close second (but I’d obviously prefer both).

I’ve harped on Purdue’s commitment to playing 11 guys on defense until someone either gets injured or can’t get back into formation the last 3 seasons. My ideal defensive coordinator isn’t dedicated to seeing how many snaps a defensive tackle can log before he functions as nothing more than a heavily breathing speed bump.

Yes, Purdue suffered through a rash of unfortunate injuries this year. This was exacerbated by the complete lack of experience developed behind the starters during the first two years of the Brohm/Holt experience. A team that doesn’t put a premium on getting players on the field tends to struggle with both injuries and transfers. Injuries hit harder because the next man up isn’t ready, and transfers happen at a unsustainable level because no one wants to go to college to practice football for 3 or 4 years.

On The Field

In 2019, the coaching staff was eventually forced to put guys on the field because of injury, and it turns out, a few guys that we wrote off as dead weight on the roster could play football when given a chance to play football.

Semisi Fakasiieiki didn’t see the field at all as a freshman or red shirt freshman, and then played sparingly in emergency duty last year when the depth chart was depleted at the end of the season. This looked to be another frustrating slog of practicing during the week and handing out water to Barnes and Karlaftis on Saturday’s. He didn’t record a tackle until the Maryland game, but ended up 8th overall in tackles. It turns out that while Barnes and Karlaftis were fading down the stretch in the Nevada desert, there was a guy on the roster who may have provided some relief, but wasn’t trusted enough to see the field, for whatever reason.

I don’t see the gap in talent requisite to justify Purdue playing their starters ridiculous numbers of snaps. Looking at the roster this year, I’m not sure how you justify guys like Ben Holt, Navon Mosley and Brennan Thieneman never coming off the field. It would be one thing if they were dominant players, but they weren’t. I’m not saying they shouldn’t play, or even that they shouldn’t play the majority of snaps, but you can’t tell me playing a guy like Jack Smith (transfer portal) for a few snaps at linebacker in the first half would have hurt the Boilermaker cause.

Can Kadin Smith or Elijah Ball (I know Ball is technically a linebacker, but I see him as more of a nickle safety) give Purdue something at safety?

I have no idea because they didn’t play.

If there were 2 All-Americans in the back end of the defense, I could understand the reluctance to take them off the field, but Mosley and Thieneman didn’t even make honorable mention Big10 as seniors. I’m not sure their talent level justified their snap count.

George Karlaftis is an elite player, but Purdue has to get more defensive ends on the field. By my count, Purdue has 14 defensive ends or defensive end/ defensive tackle hybrids on the roster. Playing Karlaftis 95% of snaps is going to empty that defensive end room out quicker than anything else. If you cut George’s snaps by 20%, I think you end up with a dominant 4th quarter player. At his current usage rate, it’s not hard to understand why Purdue’s pass rush struggled late in games. The same goes with Derrick Barnes.

In the Portal

The 2017 recruiting class, on the defensive side of the ball at least, has almost all been sucked into the portal. I understand that Brohm/Holt came in late and made a few, “well, we’ve got some scholarships available” offers, but man, for a class that should be the foundation of the 2020 team, things are bleak.

2017 Defensive Players

TJ Jallow - S - JuCo - Didn’t live up to lofty expectations - Portal

Dedrick Mackey - CB - Spot starter at CB

Tyler Hamilton - WR/DB - Never Played - Portal

Robert McWilliams III - DE/LB - Hasn’t seen the field

Giovanni Reviere - DE - Started career strong - Recruited over - Forced to play out of position - Portal

Tobias Larry - LB - Rarely Played - Portal

Kai Higgins - DE - JuCo - Started career strong - Recruited over - Graduated

Ray Ellis - DT - JuCo - Rarely saw the field - Graduated

Allen Daniels - DT - Never Played - Portal

Cornell Jones - LB - Started career strong - Recruited Over (Holt) - Injured most of season

Jacob Abrams - S - Never Played - Portal

Derrick Barnes - LB/DE - Only player in 2017 class I would consider a “hit” right now.

Kenneth Major - DB - Showed promise in 2018 - Started in 2019 but struggled with consistency.

I’ll reserve judgement on the 2018 class, but it’s not looking great right now either. Jaylan Alexander, Lawrence Johnson, and Corey Trice consistently saw minutes this year. Jack Sullivan and Branson Deen both saw reserve minutes. That’s about it.

There is no excuse for Purdue recruit guys that can’t get on the field. If a coach brings a player into the fold, there needs to be a justification for offering the scholarship beyond “hey, maybe in 3 years we can get him on the field in some capacity.” This goes back, to a lack of creativity and flexibility by the coaching staff. It’s time to start finding roles for guys earlier in their development so they’re more likely to stay around until they’re finished products. Otherwise, it’s time to take a long hard look at how Purdue is recruiting, and why the defensive staff has missed on so many prospects. If guys simply aren’t good enough to play football at the P5 level, that’s 100% on the coaches and not the players.

I’ll cover recruiting in part 3 of this series.