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Purdue Football: Brad Lambert’s Defense Line

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A closer look at Brad Lambert’s defense line at Marshall.

NCAA Football: Charlotte at Southern Mississippi Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

I started looking at Purdue’s current defensive roster to see how their players fit into new defensive coordinator Brad Lambert’s defense, but then realized I was putting the cart before the horse. Before I can tell y’all how different players fit into Lambert’s scheme, I need to show you what his scheme looks like.

The first thing you need to know is that Lambert doesn’t run a traditional 4 man front. At the same time, he doesn’t play a traditional 3 man front. The best way I can describe it as a more innovative version of Coach Holt’s 3 man front with a stand up defensive end. My writing teachers always implored me to show instead of tell, so let me show you a few things.

Note:

These clips come from Lambert’s 2019 defense vs Boise State. He ran a similar defense in 2020 as well, making me think this isn’t a 1 off scheme.

Defensive Line

I’m focusing on defensive line today because that’s where everything starts on defense. If you have a good defensive line, it’s hard (but not impossible) not to have a good defense. As I mentioned above, Lambert’s defensive front is somewhat unique.

1st and 10

This is a standard 3 down linemen w/ a standup defensive end alignment. If it looks familiar, it’s because this is mostly what Nick Holt ran at Purdue, but with one big exception. I’ve highlighted the interesting player in this alignment, but he doesn’t get interesting until the next play.

The player highlighted is #6, Marquis Couch. The 6’1, 255 pound Couch led the Thundering Herd in defensive lineman tackles with 60 stops, including 5.5 tackles for loss. He also tied for the team lead in sacks with 4.5. In this play he lines up as a standup defensive end on the weak side of the formation (opposite side of the formation from the tight end). This won’t be anything new for Purdue fans, because this is the role Derrick Barnes played in 2019 under Holt.

2 and 9

Here is Couch on the next play. He’s switched sides of the defensive formation. Boise is in a 4 wide look with no tight ends, so there isn’t a “weak” or “strong” side. I’m not sure what key Lambert looks for in moving Couch but he was on the move in this play. He’s still playing a standup end, but Holt didn’t do much of this with Barnes, who tended to play a stand up left defensive end on most snaps.

3rd and 6

Pre-Snap, it looks like Marshall has moved back into a traditional 3 down linemen alignment, but that’s not the case. This is not a 3 down look (DE,NT,DE) with a Couch playing a standup up defensive tackle. I watch a lot of football, and I haven’t seen much of this. Most teams will go to a 3 man look and blitz a linebacker, but Couch is a defensive end moving around the formation attacking different offensive linemen on each snap.

This is Couch right after the snap occupying the space where a 3 tech defensive tackle would normally play. In theory, this should give Couch a pass rushing advantage because guards don’t like trying to block quick defensive ends in pass rushing situations. In practice, on this play, Couch gets double teamed by the center and guard and Boise completes a pass from a clean pocket, but that’s besides the point.

What This Mean For Purdue?

Lambert’s got a cool defensive position that moves around the defensive line at Marshall, but who can fill that role at Purdue?

The first name that comes to mind is DaMarcus Mitchell. He’s already a linebacker in a defensive lineman’s body at 6’3”, 270. The idea of him moving around the line of scrimmage and wreaking havoc is tantalizing to say the least. At the same time, I like Mitchell as a thumping middle linebacker with the freedom to move around without always having an offensive lineman attached to him. I think he gets the first look, but Lambert may want to deploy him as a traditional middle linebacker.

If I’m looking more at a defensive end type to fill the role, Branson Dean comes to minds. He’s always been a bit of a tweener. He’s not quite heavy enough to play defensive tackle, but maybe not quite long enough to play defensive end. At 6’2”, 275, I think he could provide some power coming off the edge in the pass rush, and at the same time, could play the stand up defensive tackle position. He started getting more snaps last season, and it’s possible he could help fill this role in the defense.

The other linebackers that come to mind for this position are Chase Triplett, Kydran Jenkins, and Tristan Cox. These guys are young, but I’d love to see Purdue start getting some younger guys on the field. Jenkins and Cox are both 250 plus, and could hold up as a stand up end and occasional interior pass rusher. Triplett isn’t far behind at 245 and may be the best pass rusher out of that group.

Overall

Coach Lambert’s defense isn’t the return to the traditional 4-3 front 7 most people were clamoring for after the Diaco disaster, but his 3 man front with a roving 4th lineman aligns well with Purdue’s current personnel. Fingers crosses Purdue gets a full spring practice slate in this year, because it’s going to take a little time for Lambert to implement his system, but I’m more optimistic about what he brings to the table than the former defensive coordinator.

If nothing else, it will be interesting to see how he envisions the defensive roster and where some of Purdue’s numerous “tweener” players end up landing. I’d like to think there is more potential for production on the current roster than we’ve seen on the field over the last 2 seasons. Hopefully Coach Lambert can unlock some of the potential we’ve seen in recent recruiting classes.

If nothing else, it can’t be worse than last season.