Even though he's expecting to garner far more attention from opponents this season, defensive tackle Kawann Short is still hoping to be just as productive.
And his teammates think he can replicate, if not exceed, what he's done in the past.
"He's a good combination of speed and power," senior defensive end Gerald Gooden said. "He's an athletic freak, you never know when he's going to make a play. Anytime you've got a player like that, who can make plays or impact the game, it's good."
The Boilermakers are counting on Short, a 6-foot-3, 310-pounder, to make plenty this season, particularly as they look to replace the production of Ryan Kerrigan, who's off to the NFL. But that won't be easy. Last season, Kerrigan had 12.5 sacks and 26 tackles for loss, leading the Big Ten in both categories.
Without Kerrigan manning one defensive end spot - and without a known pass-rusher waiting to ascend to that position - Short knows he's likely to see more attention from blockers, which could be a detriment to his individual production. But he also knows his ability to occupy multiple opponents up front could allow teammates to shine.
"Working the middle is tough," said Short, a second-team All-Big Ten member last season. "I just have to keep that on my mind, knowing that I'm going to have a double team come my way and I just have to fight through it. I know that I'll be getting doubled a lot, but it opens things up for other D-tackles and the D-ends on the line with me.
"I've just got to make sacrifices."
Short, though, might be good enough to overcome the extra obstacles. Last season, he had 41 tackles, including 12.5 for loss with six sacks, the fourth-most in the Big Ten and tops among defensive tackles. He also broke up eight passes, the most by a defensive lineman in the league and tied for second amongst all players.
"We need him to be great," defensive coordinator and D-line coach Gary Emanuel said. "I think Kawann has a chance to be outstanding. The sky is the limit for him. I think he could be as good as he wants to be.
"His best football is ahead of him because he is a young guy who is just learning how to play and how to do things right on a consistent basis. But he is doing a great job, and we need him to be outstanding."
Short's working hard to make sure he can continue to be an impact player. Since he arrived on campus in 2008 - and redshirted that first season - the East Chicago, Ind., native has been fixated on shaping his body into an ideal defensive tackle mold. That meant losing some of his extraneous weight, and transforming it into worthwhile muscle.
He says he's closer than ever now. With that, Short says he's spent the summer trying to make sure he's in great condition, so he has the stamina to play as many consecutive downs as possible this season.
"I wore down a little bit (in the past), but I know I could have done things better," the junior said. "I know I could have pushed myself a little harder and this year, that's mainly what I'm focusing on."
Short has made incremental improvements each season, leaving many to think his best years are still ahead.
"He was better last year than he was the year before, and I think this year that he will be significantly better than he was last year," Coach Danny Hope said. "I think his senior year, he'll be one of the best in the country at his spot."
If so, Short will be following in the footsteps of two of his former teammates: Mike Neal and Kerrigan. Hope says Short is ahead of Neal, a D-tackle who was a second-round pick of Green Bay in 2010, at the same point in their Purdue careers. Short, who takes the reins as the marquee player on the Boilermaker line from Kerrigan, a first-round draft pick to Washington this spring, says he learned from his predecessors.
"They taught me a lot, as far as seeing them do their jobs and getting double-teamed, it opened it up for me," Short said. "So now I have to do that for the next person. That's mainly what our defense is about. We're a family."
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