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Position Breakdown: Safety

Purdue has two of the most experienced returning safeties in the Big10, but everyone is buzzing about a true freshman forcing his way into the starting lineup.

Big Ten Championship - Purdue v Michigan Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Ryan Walters played safety at Colorado, it’s no coincidence that safety plays a crucial role in his defense. Coming into the season, the position looked set. Cam Allen and Sanoussi Kane are both long in the tooth Big10 safeties. Kane is the box safety, capable of dropping into coverage or crashing down and helping in the run game. Allen is better on the back end where his ball skills allow him to pick off passes and he doesn’t have to involve himself in run support, where he struggles on occasion. I thought this was the one position group I could knock out ahead of time. Kane at strong safety, Allen at free safety, done and dusted and on to the next position group.

Then something strange happened in fall camp; Dillion Thieneman kept making plays. If you’ve followed Purdue football over the last decade, the Thieneman name should look familiar. His brothers, Jake and Brennan, both started on the back end for Purdue. Even with his family pedigree, a 3* safety isn’t supposed to come in a be this good, this early. He’s slated to start his first college football game. That honor is usually reserved for Johnny 5*, not a 3* safety that wasn’t even considered a top 10 player in the state of Indiana.

In addition to Thieneman, Antonio Stevens is back after recovering from a gruesome knee injury covering a kickoff against Nebraska in 2020. He tore pretty much everything there is to tear in a knee, leaving it dangling at an odd angle. After what has amounted to almost two seasons of intense rehab, he’s back and ready to get on with his career. He’s bulked up during his time away from the field and should be a box safety moving forward.

During the off-season rebuild of the corner position, Coach Walter’s and Kane decided to throw a safety into the mix as well. Anthony Brown, formerly of Arkansas, played in all 3 phases in high school. He’s got speed to burn on the back end and isn’t afraid to bring the hit stick in run support. He’ll play this year and has one of the higher ceilings on the team. I’m telling y’all Anthony Brown is going to be a player at some point in his Purdue career.

In reserve, Joseph Jefferson II, a redshirt freshman and Winston Berglund, a true freshman are guys to store in your memory for the future. Jefferson should contribute on special teams this season and Berglund might redshirt, but physically, looks like a Big10 safety already, if needed, he wouldn’t look out of place at strong safety. Both are under the tutelage of new safety coach Grant O’Brien, one of the best young coaches in the Big10, and should provide the Boilers with exciting options moving forward.


Strong Safety

Sanoussi Kane - #21 - Sr. - 6’0, 215lbs

Kane is a physical specimen out of Harlem, New York. At 6’0”, 215, he’s a box safety but has the ability to play deep as well. After coming off the bench as a freshman and sophomore, Kane burst onto the scene in 2023. He started 12 out of 14 games and led Purdue in total and unassisted tackles. Coach Walters got an up close and personal look at Kane last year when he racked up 9 tackles, including a tackle for a loss and forced a fumble in Purdue’s win over Illinois.

This season, he’s fighting a hand/wrist issue that could hamper him early, but Purdue needs Kane to be good, if not great, this season. He brings a level of physicality and experience to the field that Purdue can’t get out of any of their other safeties.

Free Safety

Cam Allen - #10 - 5th - 6’1, 195lbs

Football is almost two games for Allen. When the ball is in the air and he’s making a play on it, he’s great. When the ball is being carried and he has to make a tackle, he’s not so great on occasion. Despite some awful whiffs, he finished 3rd on the team in tackles last season. In coverage, he has all the tools you want in safety. He broke up a team high 8 passes last year, pulled down 3 interceptions, and managed to take one of those interceptions to the house.

It’s all about tackling for Allen. That’s his limiting factor as a player. I’m not sure I’ve seen a college player whiff on as many tackles as Allen, mainly because most players that tackle like Allen don’t stay on the field long. He’ll play deep middle, and hopefully pull down a few more interceptions this season. If he decides to tackle, he could be one of the best safeties in the Big10, but after what I witnessed last season, that’s a big if. Cam buddy, I’m begging you, just stick your face mask in the mix and get the guy on the ground by any means necessary so I don’t have to spike my tv remote on the floor again this year.

Nickel Back

Dillon Thieneman - #31 - Fr. - 6’0, 200lbs

I’m not exactly sure what Walters calls the position Thieneman is playing this year, but nickel back gets the general idea across. I didn’t anticipate seeing the Purdue legacy on the field this season, but here he is, starting the first game of his Purdue career. His brothers Jake and Brennan both walked on at Purdue and eventually worked their way into the starting lineup. Dillon took the more conventional route and started his post Carmel High career on scholarship.

According to Coach Walters, all he does is make plays in practice. He also happens to be the second fastest player on the team behind Deion Burkes. I’m not sure what that says about Purdue’s team speed overall, but I choose to be an optimist. Turns out Dillon Thieneman can fly.

Expect a few mistakes out of the true freshman this year, but that’s fine as long as he makes those mistakes going 100 miles an hour. Both his brothers and his head coach played safety in college, so I’m guessing he’ll get those mistakes fixed in a hurry. Sometimes the ranking folks make a mistake, and it looks like they criminally underrated Dillon. My guess...they considered him a Purdue lock and ignored him. Players like Dillon don’t move the recruiting needle because there is no excitement, and excitement drives revenue. Whatever the reason, it looks like Purdue signed a 4* talent at a 3* price. I’ll take that deal every day.

Next Up

Anthony Brown - #24 - R-Fr. - 6’0, 195lb

Considered a 3* prospect out of Milan High School in Milan, Tennessee, Brown originally signed with Arkansas out of high school.

If you’re looking for a guy that can do a little of everything, Brown was the classic example of “he’s our best player, let’s use him everywhere” in high school. He played running back, wide receiver, quarterback and safety and still managed to be a special teams ace on kick coverage and as a returner. You won’t find many high school players with 962 rushing yards, 308 receiving yards, and 249 passing yards in a single season, but that’s what he did at Milan.

Coach Walters has an eye for safeties, and grabbed the uber-athletic Brown as soon as he hit the portal. That makes sense because he recruited him for Illinois before Brown decided to sign with Arkansas. I expect see him on defense and as a special teams contributor this season, but in the future, Brown and Thieneman should make a killer safety tandem.

Antonio Stevens - #11 - R-Jr. - 6’2, 210lbs

The fact that Stevens is back after suffering one of those “oh my God, don’t show the replay that thing is pointed in the wrong direction” knee injuries (I’ve suffered one of those myself, and I can assure you it isn’t a fun experience) is a testament to his toughness. The next step in the process is getting back on the field, taking a hit, and getting back up. You can rehab and practice all you want, but something about taking that first hit at game speed is different. You can’t think about anything other than the task at hand at this level of football and Stevens will need any lingering doubt about his knee knocked out of him in live action.

If he’s good to go, Stevens gives Purdue a tall, strong box safety capable of coming up and putting a hit on a ball carrier or separating the ball from a receiver (legally of course). I liked him as a prospect coming out of high school in Tennessee. I respect the hell out of him as a college player returning from a catastrophic injury. I’m excited to see him back on the field in any capacity, but you’ll forgive me if I watch through my fingers the first few times he gets around the action.


Winston Berglund - #20 - Fr. - 6’2, 210lbs

Winston is a 3* safety out of Carmel that picked up significant interest late in the recruiting process. After Purdue offered on February 9th, 2022, he picked up offers from Michigan, Missouri, Minnesota, and South Carolina (among others) before committing to Purdue on April 15th. He plays safety with a linebacker mentality, wracking up 91 tackles as a senior. He’ll need to refine his coverage skills, but as much as I like the idea of a Brown and Thieneman safety duo, I like the idea of a Brown, Thieneman, and Berglund trio down the road even more. His physical style would be the perfect compliment to the group.

Joseph Jefferson II - #32 - R-Fr. - 6’0, 195lbs

Another in-state product, Jefferson was a 3 time all-state honoree at Pike High School in Indianapolis. As a senior at Pike he recorded 75 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, and four interceptions. I like him as either a free safety or nickel back at Purdue. Coming off his redshirt, look for him to make an impact on special teams while he works his way up the depth chart. He’s another guy with solid talent in need of direction and Purdue just hired one of the best safety coaches in the business as their head coach and then brought in another up and comer in Grant O’Brien to coach he position group. The future of the safety position is in good hands. The present looks good as well, as long as the tackling issues from last season are resolved.