So... I definitely didn’t leave myself enough time to write up the defense as I’m also packing to head out of town after work Thursday. Which is a shame because without the defensive improvements of last season, Purdue isn’t a 9 win team. They may not have been a 6 win team. But I’ll try to hit the highlights and get to everyone as I go thru this quickly.
Co-defensive coordinators English and Hagen will run a 4-2-5 alignment with the 5th secondary player being Jalen Graham - a hybrid LB/S type. The 4th lineman will play the LEO spot (a DE/LB hybrid). Not all of the players on the roster necessarily fit easily into one spot for this scheme, so if I get someone’s position incorrect - just remember that I joined the “writers” group to talk basketball and I try tp do my best to keep my head above water with football.
Purdue hired an entirely brand new coaching staff to replace Bob Diaco and his gang of misfit assistants. They also brought in more than a handful of transfers to solidify the defense and bring an attacking style of play to that side of the field. It worked and Purdue’s defense carried them to early season victories over the Illini and Hawkeyes (the offense at least helped against Oregon State and UConn).
DE George Karlaftis was drafted in the 1st round by the Kansas City Chiefs. If you don’t know who he is, I’m assuming this is your first time reading an article about Purdue football.
S Marvin Grant made the odd decision to transfer to Kansas. I still don’t know what that was about since he was a starter last year and likely would have been this year. Maybe he wants to beat Texas.
CB Dedrick Mackey decided to forgo his option at a 6th year COVID season and attempt to turn pro. He was not drafted but is trying to make a NFL roster as an undrafted free agent. Mackey was a reliable CB for Purdue throughout his career, but despite his solid play I always felt he had another level of potential that he never quite reached.
LB Jaylan Alexander went undrafted in the NFL draft but has signed an undrafted free agent deal with the Chicago Bears and will attempt to make their roster. Alexander was the starting middle linebacker last season and had 19 tackles in the Music City Bowl.
DE/LB DaMarcus Mitchell played in the LEO role for Purdue last season and had one year of eligibility remaining but decided to try and start his NFL career. He went undrafted and if my sources are correct, he’s currently with the Patriots.
Co-co-defensive coordinator and play caller Brad Lambert has moved on to the same role at Wake Forest. I covered him in the coaches article, but it bears repeating that he could be a big loss.
BoilerUp89’s Projected Depth Charts
Starters: DE Jack Sullivan, NT Lawrence Johnson, DT Branson Deen, LEO Kydran Jenkins
A trio of redshirt seniors should serve as the down linemen while Kydran Jenkins will step into the starting spot at the edge rusher position. Sullivan, Johnson, and Deen offer a ton of experience and are strong Big Ten bodies that shouldn’t get pushed around outside of the wisconsin game - one of these years Purdue will be able to matchup with wisconsin, the only question is whether it will be before or after the Purdue Final Four appearance. Jenkins isn’t a replacement for George Karlaftis, but he should be fine in the run game and there are some intriguing underclassmen that I think can spell him on obvious passing downs if he struggles at all there.
Next up: DE Joe Anderson, DT Damarjhe Lewis, DT Prince James Boyd Jr.
Anderson transferred in from South Carolina after 2020 and will be in the rotation with Jack Sullivan at DE. I wouldn’t be surprised if they pretty equally split time. Lewis and Boyd are the next guys in the DT rotation and will also see plenty of playing time as Hagen rotates in D-linemen to keep guys fresh. All three of these guys are juniors and big bodies that will be hard to move off their spots. I wouldn’t want all of them in at the same time on a big third down passing situation, but otherwise I’m comfortable mixing and matching them into the game in any situation.
DE depth: Sulaiman Kpaka and Khordae Sydnor. Kpaka is a redshirt junior who I’m expected to be more of involved in the rotation by now. I wouldn’t be surprised if he plays more on as a DT moving forward as some of the young guns I’ll mention below could pass him. Sydnor is only a sophomore so he’s got plenty of time to still become a contributor but I think he is only ahead of the redshirting freshmen this season. Neither guy played last season.
DT depth Greg Hudgins III was a high 3 star recruit in the 2020 class who appeared in two games that season as well as two games last season. As just a redshirt sophomore, I think he starts to work into the rotation this season and if there are any injuries to the guys in front of him he starts to see time.
LEO depth: I talk about them in the LB group as I see both playing more there but Scotty Humpich and Yanni Karlaftis could see time at LEO.
OL/DL: DJ Washington is listed as an OL/DL on the depth chart. A former O-linemen, he made the switch to DL last season and returns to the roster as a sixth year senior. I’m a little surprised he is returning since he didn’t really play last season. He doesn’t figure to be part of the O-line rotation unless there are massive injuries issues (after all he switched positions in a season that Purdue really needed upperclassmen offensive linemen), so I guess Washington fits into the DT rotation alongside Hudgins. It’s the only place I think he fits. I know Hagen wants to be three deep everywhere on the line and without Washington at DT, that isn’t happening so let’s plug him in there.
Freshmen DEs - Nic Caraway, Joe Strickland. Caraway and Strickland are the defensive stars of the 2022 class. Both need to still add some weight and strength, but either could see the field at the LEO position on passing downs now. Strickland is one of the five early enrollees and the most likely of them to play in my opinion.
The short version of the story for the D-line is that they are a group of experienced upperclassmen that should be able to close down running lanes and create pressure on the QB. It’s going to have to be more of a team effort than last year, but expect lots of guys rotating in and out as Hagen wants to be three deep at every position here.
Starters: OC Brothers, Kieren Douglas, and LB/S Jalen Graham
OC Brothers transferred in from Auburn after the the 2020 season and was a bit of a surprise non-starter last season. But he did well enough as a backup that I’m penciling him to move into the starting lineup this year for what will be his junior season. Kieren Douglas and Jalen Graham were too of the more important defenders last season (after Karlaftis of course) and will be returning to the starting lineup for their final seasons. Both are hard hitting defenders that roam all over the field allowing the defensive play callers to use them in a variety of ways. I know Graham is technically the 3rd safety on the field, but I’m listing him with the linebackers as he plays up near the line more often than he drops into coverage.
Next up: Semisi Fakasiieiki, Clyde Washington, Scotty Humpich, LB/DE Yanni Karlaftis
Super duper senior (7th year) Semisi Fakasiieiki (and no, I can’t pronounce that) is the most likely LB to challenge either Brothers or Douglas for a starting spot. Due to a handful of redshirts of the regular and medical kind as well as the free COVID year, Fakasiieiki has been granted another year of eligibility. While Semisi (I’m tired of trying to spell his last name accurately), didn’t play last year due to an injury in camp, he will almost certainly be a part of the LB rotation this season. He is also the final player from the Darrell Hazell era at Purdue. Humpich has transferred in from Murray State where he excelled as a pass rusher. He could also spot LEO Kydran Jenkins. Clyde Washington returns to the team after playing as a backup in all 13 games last season. I expect a similar role for him this season. And that leaves Yanni Karlaftis - whom I’m not really sure what the staff is going to do with. Recruited as a LB, Yanni didn’t get to play as a true freshman with his older brother and there has been various talk about him playing at either the LEO spot or a LB. He’s a bit of a tweener, but I know the staff will look to get him on the field in some form or another as he was the star of the 2021 recruiting class.
LB depth: Ben Kreul, Jacob Wahlberg, Ben Futney, Tristan Cox. Kreul is the only one of this group that has seen playing time in more than a couple of games on the defense. He played as a backup in 10 of last years games. Wahlberg is a redshirt junior who played in a handful of games in 2019 and 2021. Futney played in 10 games last year as a contributor on the kickoff return team, Cox is a sophomore who played in the Illinois and Indiana games only last season. All four of these guys are likely mainly depth guys for this season.
With a new linebackers coach, one might expect some upheaval on the depth chart. But the new guy was promoted for defensive analyst to position coach so I doubt there will be too many abrupt changes from last season.
Starters: CB Cory Trice, FS Cam Allen, SS Chris Jefferson, CB Jamari Brown
Redshirt senior Trice, senior Allen, and redshirt senior Jefferson will almost certainly be starters if healthy. That is unfortunately an open question Trice since he suffered a knee injury during practice the week before the Notre Dame game last year. Since Purdue was only really one busted defensive secondary play away from being in that game the entire four quarters that was unfortunate, but the two games we saw Trice in last year he looked really good with a couple of really nice pass deflections in the Oregon State game that may have been the difference between a win and a loss. Cam Allen had 4 interceptions and was reliable at safety and while Jefferson didn’t start last season he played in 11 games and wasn’t picked on by opposing offenses. Jamari Brown is yet another redshirt senior and while he will had to fight off incoming transfer Reese Taylor for the spot opposite Cory Trice, the coaches seem to really like Brown. He’s an aggressive cornerback that likes to jam wide receivers at the line and while his style of play results in a bunch of pass breakups, his aggressiveness can sometimes lead to him getting beat deep or picking up a pass interference calls that benefit the offense.
Next up: CB Reese Taylor, CB Tee Denson, S Sanoussi Kane, S Zane Greene
Reese Taylor transferred in from Indiana for his final season of college ball. Taylor is side by side with Jamari Brown for the final starting spot, but even if he doesn’t win it I would expect Taylor to get the most snaps among the backups (assuming everyone stayed healthy - which isn’t how football typically works). Denson transferred in from Kansas State after playing in nine games as a backup the past two seasons. He should serve as the fourth cornerback on the roster since his competition is another transfer (from Division 2) and two sophomores that have yet to see the field.
Junior Kane is the next guy up among the safeties if either Allen of Jefferson goes down or needs a breather. He saw action in all 13 games last season. If Jalen Graham gets hurt I think his backup will be a combination of Reese Taylor on obvious passing plays and one of the linebackers the rest of the time. Senior Zane Greene is probably the fourth traditional safety in the rotation as he saw playing time in 12 games last year (not Notre Dame), but he will have to fight off the trio of Grigsby, Brandt, and Stevens and with the top two safeties being seniors it might serve Jeff Brohm better to have one of those three getting backup reps so they are ready for next season when Greene will have graduated.
CB depth: Bryce Hampton transferred in from Division 2 Adams State after they shut down their football program. He was the first of Purdue’s transfer portal pickups this past offseason and gives Purdue another veteran option in the secondary. Sophomores CB Brandon Calloway and CB Rickey Smith have yet to play. I’m not sure either will see much playing time beyond maybe some blowouts or in the event of injury.
S depth: sophomore Jah’von Grigsby has yet to play while junior Ryan Brandt saw limited action in the final three games of the season last year. Junior Antonio Stevens played in five games during the 2020 season, but it looks like he only played against the Illini this past year. All three were decently ranked recruits, but with Allen, Jefferson, and Grant in front of them haven’t really had much of an opportunity to play yet. I think Grigsby is the most likely to see the most action this year out of this group.
There isn’t anybody that will demand a double team every play. But there’s a ton of seniors and redshirt seniors in the starting lineup. And while that many guys that have been in the strength and conditioning program for a bunch of seasons, Purdue should be able to generate a pass rush and the secondary is more than capable of covering the receivers that anyone outside of maybe Maryland is going to throw at them this season - to be completely honest, I still like how the starters matchup with Maryland.
In the run game, Purdue has plenty of big bodies to matchup better against the farm boys of the West than in past years. And they did a good job of that last year while teams mostly ran away from Karlaftis and at the guys who are returning this season.
There’s a couple of spots I don’t want to see Purdue have to test their depth too much, but there’s enough depth that unless there are multiple injuries in a position group Purdue should be fine. The biggest question for me on defense is this: how will English do as a play caller? We will find out soon enough as perhaps the toughest opponent is in Week 1.