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What Does a Kane/Walters Defense Look Like? Linebacker Edition

The linebacker position is going to look a little different in 2023.

NCAA Football: Purdue at Indiana Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

Last Saturday I took a look at Purdue’s new 3 man defensive front, today I’m moving on to linebackers. Much like last week, the best way to look at Purdue’s 2023 linebackers is to check out the Illinois linebacker group from last season.

Illinois Linebacker Depth Chart 2022

* Starters in bold

Outside Linebacker (Fox - Field)

Seth Coleman - 6’5”, 240

Alec Bryant - 6’3”, 240

Outside Linebacker (Buck - Boundary)

Gabe Jacas - 6’3”, 265

Ezekial Holmes - 6’5”, 245

Weakside Linebacker

Isaac Darkangelo - 6’1”, 230

Calvin Hart - 6’1”, 230

Middle Linebacker

Tarique Barnes - 6’1, 230

4 Linebackers - 5 Man Front

Blue Box - Outside Linebacker

Yellow Box - Outside Linebacker

Purple Box - Weak Side Linebacker

Red Box - Middle Linebacker

Why Does the Middle Linebacker Look Like a Strong Side Linebacker and the Weakside Linebacker Look Like a Middle Linebacker?

On this play middle linebacker, Barnes, (Red Square) is in man coverage with the tight end. The weakside linebacker, Darkangelo, (Purdue Square) slides over to the middle, but his responsibility is still the weak (non-tight end) side of the formation.

Linebacker Body Type?

This is interesting. At Illinois, the outside linebackers were taller, and the middle and weakside linebackers were shorter. Eventually I expect Purdue to shift to recruiting taller outside linebackers, but Walters/Kane/Dineen will have to make do with shorter outside linebackers this season because that’s who they have on the roster.

In general though, tall guys on the outside are ideal to keep outside leverage and bat down passes at the line, while the linebackers inside the box have a lower center of gravity and hold up better in the run game. The outside guys at Illinois were heavier, but only because they’re 4 inches taller than the shorter and stockier inside guys.

Illinois Starting Linebacker Stats ‘22

*Numbers in () are overall rankings on the team

Weakside Linebacker

Isaac Darkangelo - 71 tackles (1st), 7.5 tackles for loss (4th), 1 sack

Middle Linebacker

Tarique Barnes - 46 tackles (6th), 8.5 tackles for loss (3rd), 7 passes defended (3rd), 1.5 Sacks

Outside Linebacker (Buck - Boundary Side)

Gabe Jacas - 36 tackles (10th), 5 tackles for loss (5th/6th), 4 sacks (4th)

Outside Linebacker (Fox - Field Side)

Seth Coleman - 45 tackles (7th), 5 tackles for loss (5th/6th), 4.5 sacks (3rd)

In most defenses, you expect the middle linebacker to lead the team in tackles, in this defense, the weakside backer had significantly more tackles than the middle linebacker. Notice, however, that Barnes was 3rd on the team in passes defended. He had more coverage responsibilities than the weakside backer, who is generally free because he doesn’t have a tight end to worry about in coverage.

Another strange stat in this defense revolves around the outside linebackers. In a traditional 3-4, they tend to be the pass rushers. In this defense, they are expected to rush the passer, but also keep outside leverage and force everything back into the middle. Illinois also dropped their outside linebackers into the underneath zone a good bit.

Meanwhile, the defensive ends, who often draw that job in a traditional 3-4 front are freed up to win one on one matchups with guards. This is an interesting but understandable twist on a 3-4 because in college (and the N.F.L. for the most part) tackles are the premier pass blockers and guards are run blockers.

This defense, at least last season at Illinois, puts the guards on an island because the outside linebackers are pulling the tackles further outside, giving the defensive end a 2 way go in terms of pass rushing because the normal tackle help is pushed outside and the nose guard has the center locked up. Any time you can get an opponent outside their comfort zone (in this case the opponents guards) you’re winning.

Purdue Starting Linebacker Stats ‘22

*Numbers in () are overall rankings on the team

Before getting into stats, I wanted to refresh everyone on Purdue’s defense last season. Since Illinois was a power run team, they put Purdue, normally lined up in a 3-3-5 into their own 3-4 alignment.

LEO (Blue Box)

Kydran Jenkins - 32 tackles (12th), 8 tackles for loss (1st), 4 sacks (3rd)

Weakside (Green Box)

O.C. Brothers - 42 tackles (5th), 1 tackle for loss, 1 sack, 3 passes defended

Middle (Yellow Box)

Kieren Douglas - 43 tackles (4th), 2.5 tackles for loss, 1 sack


Jalen Graham - 52 tackles (2nd), 5 tackles for loss (3rd), 1 sack, 4 passes defended (4th)

The Difference Between Purdue and Illinois’s 3-4 Defense in ‘22

In Purdue’s defense the LEO position is essentially a stand up defensive end. Jenkins moved around the formation and looked for a place to attack. Sometimes he came off an edge, other times, he would slot in over a guard. In Purdue’s generally passive defense (in terms of tackles for loss and sacks) Jenkins was the player designated to attack the line of scrimmage.

The SAM position Graham held down was the premier position on the defense. Jalen was around the line of scrimmage but could also be used in coverage. Coach Walters has a similar position in this defense when they switch to a 3-3-5, but this position doesn’t exist in their base 3-4.

The middle linebacker was Purdue’s traditional run stuffer, with the weakside linebacker working to set the edge on run plays and pick up some coverages on pass plays.

In Illinois’s system (Purdue’s new system in ‘23), there is no LEO or SAM position, instead, there are two stand up outside linebackers lined up on the edge and two “box” linebackers that, in theory, look to eat up any ball carrier that attempts to cut back on stretch plays.

The outside linebackers are designated as Fox (field) and Buck (boundary). The field outside linebacker will be lined up on the wide side of the field and the buck is lined up on the short side.

The middle linebacker picks up coverage on the tight end and the weak side linebacker is free to flow to the ball and make tackles.

This is the basics and I’m generalizing responsibilities on both team.

Purdue Linebacker Depth Chart for ‘23?

Again y’all, this is a shot in the dark. I’ve got a pretty good idea about the outside backers, but the inside is up in the air, especially when is comes to the back-ups.

Outside Linebacker (Buck - Boundary)

Kydran Jenkins - 6’1”, 270

Nick Carraway - 6’4”, 260

Outside Linebacker (Fox - Field)

Khordae Sydnor - 6’4”, 265

Roman Pitre - 6’5”, 230


Will Heldt - 6’6”, 235

Middle Linebacker

O.C. Brothers - 6’2”, 225

Yanni Karlaftis - 6’3”, 230

Weak Side Linebacker

Clyde Washington - 6’3”, 235

Yanni Karlaftis - 6’3”, 230


Dom Moon could work in at either the middle or outside spot. Karlaftis worked at both linebacker spots, and I expect him inside the box, and not on the edge, and I think you’ll see him first, especially in pass rush situations off the weak side.


Purdue’s outside linebackers could be devastating this season. I wouldn’t be surprised to see both Jenkins and Syndor come into fall camp lighter than their listed weight. Jenkins, in particular, needed to bulk up for his role last season, but came into Purdue as a linebacker and could drop 10 or even 20 pounds and still be fine on the boundary. Syndor could also drop a few pounds to help him in space without sacrificing much in terms of the run game.

The 3 top outside linebackers (Jenkins, Syndor, Carraway) have the potential to shine next season. It wouldn’t shock me to see Carraway start at some point, not because Jenkins isn’t good, but because Carraway could be elite in that role.

The 4th linebacker spot is a little more up in the air, Heldt is super young (currently 17 I think) but enrolled early and drew rave reviews in spring camp. Physically, he’s the prototype Fox in this defense. Pitre has a year of college football under his belt and brings similar characteristics, one, if not both, will need to play this season.

The box linebackers are a bit more problematic. O.C. took the majority of middle linebacker snaps in the spring, and I anticipate a big year from him in ‘23. He has blazing speed, and is solid in both run support and coverage.

After O.C., it’s anyone’s guess. I thought Jacob Wahlberg would grab the weakside spot, but he transferred to Western Michigan after spring practice. That leaves veteran Clyde Washington to fill the Will role in the defense. Clyde has some experience, and has solid speed for a linebacker.

Yanni is the real question in the new defense. Most expected him to play one of the outside spots, but it sounds like he’ll be in the box. Look for him to play the weakside spot in certain pass rush situations. He’s the talent, and the future at the weak side spot if he can stay healthy. I like him off the line and in space. If you’re looking for Purdue’s next great linebacker (in the traditional sense) Yanni is a solid bet.

After that, I have no idea. As I mentioned earlier, Moon is a red shirt freshman with some physical upside, but box linebacker is one of the spots Purdue can’t afford an injury. O.C. in particular is vital to this defense. Purdue has more depth at safety, and I expect to see a good bit of 3-3-5 alignment with O.C. alone in the middle against spread teams. I’m not sure anyone else can fill that role.

If Purdue adds anyone else in the portal, a box linebacker could be useful. Not seeing much in terms of experienced talent left.