During the spring, defensive coordinator Greg Hudson dealt with injuries as he tried to install his defense for the Boilermakers.
Three-fourths of the secondary missed the latter half of the practices, and the two defensive tackles missed the first, including Brandon Taylor[db], who was out all of spring. A possible starter at end was also out for the game, with [db]Greg Latta being sidelined.
Yet, Hudson was able to evaluate the Boilermakers, with the spring leaving him wanting to see more in the fall.
GoldandBlack.com caught up with Hudson earlier this week for a Q&A.
Gold and Black: What were your impressions of the spring?
Hudson: "Hum. My impression, to answer that specific question, is that we have a group of guys who are willing to work, guys that have showed up every day and tried to get better. They're willing to learn and are accepting of change, and are trying to find a way to fit in to the scheme of things that we're doing now. And now it's matching the things that they do best as players and trying to coinside that with what we'll do on defense to match their ability."
Gold and Black: Where is the strength of this defense?
Hudson: "I think our strength is that we were able to put a fair amount of defense in and the guys really worked hard at picking it all up and learning it. And they went at it every day in practice as hard as they could. They didn't shy away from anything we challenged them with.
"But we're still trying to find out who can be a significant run-stopper, who's got the speed-to-power ratio up front to stuff the run and get to the quarterback, and a linebacker who can consistently tackle the guy with the ball or be near him. And then in the secondary with the injuries and stuff we had throughout the spring, and guys not getting work, we're still trying to find those answers."
Gold and Black: How do you feel about where the talent level is?
Hudson: "Um, you know, it's not where we need to be as a Big Ten football team. We have some talented guys who have to use that talent every snap every second. Like coach says, A players need to get As. If you're an A player right now, you better get an A. A B is a failure."
Gold and Black: You mentioned installation of the defense, how far along are you on that front? Do you feel like you got a lot accomplished there?
Hudson: "I thought we were actually able to put in a decent amount. But what you don't is put a bunch of stuff in and not have guys who aren't going to run in out there trying to install a sub package. We were able to do a good chunk of our base defense with some minor sub package installation, with some bells and whistles. Yeah, we were able to do some. Not what we'll need to utilize everything in August, but we're getting closer."
Gold and Black: Was it frustrating to not you're your complete secondary? For the spring game, three of your four projected starters were out. Did that limit some of the things you wanted to see?
Hudson: "Yeah, we had guys out up front and on the back end. It's a durability game. You can't get better in just a scrimmage, you've got to get better in practice consistently, then you get evaluated in a scrimmage. The scrimmages don't always just tell you who the best player is; it's the work leading up to those scrimmages that tell the whole story and then handling the live situation is another part of the tale. And right now, we're just not a complete story yet on defense."
Gold and Black: Did Bruce Gaston's return in the second half of the spring make a difference?
Hudson: "You can tell when a 300-pounder with ability is in the game, and he made a couple flash plays. But we're not about style points, we're going to be about consistent play. That position can make an impact really fast, if it's done within the framework of the defense, but it can make a big hole really fast. We've got to get a lot of work this August when we're in pads, but there is a difference. When a heavy weight is out there, it makes a difference."
Gold and Black: What do you think of your defense from a pass rush point-of-view, particularly at defensive end? That's not been a position recently that Purdue has generated much rush.
Hudson: "I still think it's a work in progress. Pass rush is something that the fans and media when they see a sack, they think we're getting great pass rush. That's easy for the eye to see. But we have to affect the quarterback consistently, and affecting the quarterback on a consistent basis is what we need to do first, then the sacks will come. The sacks to me are like three-pointers; we need to make layups and free throws. That's affecting the quarterback. We need to make sure he isn't standing there flat-footed, throwing the ball. Eighty percent of their throws, or more, he has to be moving his feet or ducking his head or turning his shoulders. We have to affect him every time he drops back and it helps to know prior to the snap to know that your going to be affected at quarterback. You put that out there and then the sacks will come."
Gold and Black: I think you knew coming in to the spring that you had work to do at linebacker. I'd imagine leaving the spring you feel the same. What's the key to feeling comfortable with the guys you put on the field?
Hudson: "The one thing about linebacker is you have to grade out and play well all the time. You can't have a bad day at linebacker on defense and you can't ever have a bad day on the back end in the secondary; that's why they have to grade out even higher. We've got a group of guys that we need three of them to separate themselves from the pack and make the decision easy for the coaches to put the starters out there. Right now, we've got a group of guys - we'll find guys who can do the job - but those three should make it easy for us to find them and their development, and that's where we've got to get."
Gold and Black: You've commented that there's not a whole lot of separation from the 1s to the 2s to the 3s. Is that accurate and do you want to see the crème rise to the top?
Hudson: "That's a two-sided answer. It could also say that you've got some good guys in the wings that are pushing the guys who are going to be alleged starters. I don't think there's a big enough gap, but there is some distance between the 1s and the 2s, but it's not big enough yet. That can also allow us to play more guys and develop this team a little faster, which is something we need to do."
Gold and Black: What do you think of Sean Robinson as a linebacker?
Hudson: "It's tough. In the old days, back in the 60s, 70s, 80s of the Big Ten, he would be prototype. If you looked back, I bet you could Google to find out how many quarterbacks ended up playing linebacker in the Big Ten and played really well in those days. And usually because the high school quarterback is the best athlete and player on your team. I still think he's in a transition period; you move from quarterback to linebacker and they throw you not just in the mix but right in the fire. He's done some on-the-job training that's been difficult probably for him. But he's got a good football mind, he understands football. You can tell he was a level-headed quarterback, cerebrally, because he doesn't get rattled. He understands the game and is willing to work.
"I like the play we've got in him, we've just got to mold it right. And actually protect him a little bit in this transition period. I can't put him in position where he's going to fail. That's my responsibility."
Gold and Black: It seemed to me that you had a couple younger linebackers, in Jimmy Herman and Andy Garcia, who had an ability to make some plays. But is the key for them this summer to add weight?
Hudson: "They better. The one thing that will happen in this league: you will get blocked. You can plan on it. You can say 'Well, I don't know how much I'm going to do this or that.' But one thing that is going to happen in this league is that a guy that's good at what he's doing on the offensive line is going to block you. And if you can't get off that block in the Big Ten, it'll be a long day. Height, weight, speed can be a variable in that, but the instinct of a linebacker and ability of a linebacker has to take over at some point to where you know how to get off of those blocks the right way. Not around them or under them, but by doing your job and securing your foxhole and getting to the ball."
Gold and Black: If they get healthy, do you like the prospects of having Ricardo Allen and Taylor Richards in the secondary? Is it a matter of getting them healthy?
Hudson: "Yeah, not only do we have to get them healthy, but we've got to get them completely healthy. One guy's 90-percent might be better than another guy's 100. Right now, we've got this time in May, the decretionary period, and in the summer workouts so that when they show up that first day of practice, they need to be 100 percent. And it's our job to sustain that performance level that they can have throughout camp and get them to the field still at 100 percent, but playing better."
Gold and Black: You like to use the "Jack," the hybrid, 3/4 guy
Hudson: "I'd love to use him, if he's good."
Gold and Black: Are you going to find one of those players? I know you used Jules Williams, the rugby guy, there during the spring.
Hudson: "It sort of played into Jules' rugby a little bit, because all we asked him to do was to sort of run into people and hold an edge. But you know, he really did a good job. The main thing that Jules did is that he took a little pride in it. It gave him an identity which he probably hadn't had before. It gave him the identity and the rest of the guys we used, it gave them an identity to do something different and get better at it. As a player, you feel wanted, so that's going to help. We would like to use it in a lot of situations. It brings a lot to the table, to go back and forth from the 4-3 to the 3-4. If the guys can learn it and execute it, we will use it. If they can't, we will not."
Gold and Black: On the positive, your defense turned the offense over, getting 10 turnovers in the scrimmage and spring game combined.
Hudson: "It's a primary objective for us defensively, to get the ball back. We want to get off the field as fast as we can. A turnover is the fastest way outside of a three-and-out to get off the field. And we played a good amount of zone coverage in the spring and mixed in what we call sneaky man and that helps. The other thing is the pursuit and really being critical of loafs and the effort that the guys have. Because the turnover comes, a lot of times, after contact or after the tipped ball and it's the second or third guy who gets it. Those are major points that we will emphasize, so we were pleased with getting the turnovers and getting off the field."
Gold and Black: How many positions are set? And is there room for a freshman to come in and crack the two-deep?
Hudson: "There's always room. Even when there's a set position, there's room. A guy can come out of the spring as a starter and take it for granted and not do what he needs to do in camp and not play at a Big Ten level that we expect.
"We're going to put the guys down on paper that probably will start the first time we go out there with the 1s. But there's nothing in stone, we're going to write everything in pencil."
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