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August 30, 2006
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With Saturday's season opener against Indiana State approaching, GoldandBlack.com takes a position-by-position look back at preseason practice. Here's the defensive line.
With three of four starters gone and a new coach, Purdue's defensive line is in a state of great transition. That's not to say, however, that it will be a sore spot, by any means.
In fact, should the Boilermakers stay healthy up front, the D-line might have a chance to be the strength of the defense.
The key is senior defensive end Anthony Spencer, regarded as something of a sleeping giant. Spencer's shown flashes of dominance in his career, but every time it's seemed as if he was ready to be consistently dominant, he's gotten hurt.
So, needless to say, it was greatly disappointing to see Spencer sidelined for about a week-and-a-half with a hamstring injury that doesn't appear to be completely gone.
When Spencer's healthy, though, he might not be as quick or athletic as some of those who came before him, but he's more powerful, freakishly strong, actually.
During camp, he seemed to excel at batting down balls at the line of scrimmage, something the D-line did far too little of in 2005. Of course, Spencer's also key to a defense that will desperately need to apply pressure on the quarterback without compromising too much of the rest of its game plan.
Part of that burden will also fall on juniors Eugene Bright and Mike McDonald, who'll combine to be a sort of co-starter opposite Spencer. Neither are dominant pass-rushers by any means, but both should be solid in that capacity.
Their challenge, though, will be to be effective players against the run. The coaching staff doesn't seem terribly concerned about it.
Junior college transfer Jeff Benjamin isn't flashy or terribly impressive upon first glance, but he's capable against the run and finds ways to get to the quarterback every now and then.
One player to potentially watch for is redshirt freshman Keyon Brown, who's tall, long and explosive off the corner, perhaps Purdue's best-equipped pass-rusher physically. He's still woefully in need of the added size and strength that would allow him to defend the run and more easily joust with offensive tackles, but he could get to the field as a third-down pass-rusher alone.
How much P.T. Brown sees, though, will probably be impacted by how much Purdue uses linebacker Cliff Avril as a rush end, something it experimented with often in preseason practice.
At tackle, it's been said before, but still holds true: All the Boilermakers lack is experience.
In sophomores Ryan Baker and Alex Magee, the Boilermakers probably have the most physically talented duo they've put on the field in recent years.
Baker, though young, should be one of the defense's emerging leaders, as his spirit and energy appear to be precisely what this group needs more of. Baker's not blessed with tremendous athleticism, but his relentless effort makes up for it.
The 6-foot-5, 282-pounder will be at his best late in games, when the man across the line of scrimmage from him begins letting up due to fatigue.
Magee has all the physical talent in the world, as he showed last season in brief stints as a true freshman. Now pushing 300 pounds, he's a great athlete and runs very well for a big man. If he learns to play as hard as Baker, the world is his oyster.
Purdue has two play-hard types in reserve in sophomore Jermaine Guynn and redshirt freshman Jared Zwilling, each of whom may play early and often after having solid camps. Neither will dominate games, but they won't be liabilities, either.
Redshirt freshman Mike Neal may be Purdue's most athletic tackle, though he still may be slightly undersized and he lost much of training camp due to a sore knee. Still, Purdue could play as many as five tackles with semi-regularity, and he'd be one of them.
Especially early in the season, you can probably expect to see the Boilermakers playing as many as nine or 10 defensive linemen.
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