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August 19, 2014

Ezechukwu finds a fit; Tuesday notebook







A pair of freshmen linebackers may be getting some pub for coming to Purdue's campus physically ready to perform as rookies, but last year, it was Danny Ezechukwu who looked the part as a first-year player.

He still redshirted but then was lining up as Purdue's No. 1 weakside linebacker on the first day of spring. Ultimately, the coaches thought that wasn't the best fit, and Ezechukwu slid to rush end during camp but quickly was working with the first-team unit when Jalani Phillips was nursing a shoulder injury.

Ezechukwu feels like the new position is a good place for him to showcase his physicality - and a 250-pound, 13-percent body fat frame. His presence also could help Purdue's pass rush, a crucial area of needed improvement.

"I feel like I get off the ball pretty fast," he said after Tuesday's practice. "I know one thing I'm working on is not taking false steps and stepping backward off the ball. (But) I feel like (rushing the passer is) something I can possess, and I really feel like I use my hands well."

Ezechukwu said the transition from linebacker to rush end hasn't been that difficult because the latter is a role he did some in high school, but it's also helped having linebacker experience in 2013, he said.

Plus, he's constantly approaching Phillips and Ryan Russell, a senior defensive end who played some of the hybrid position last season, for advice and learning more about the position daily. The coaches have helped, too, especially Rubin Carter's detail-oriented approach.

"I look at (Ryan Russell) and I look at Jalani (Phillips) on film and I ask them questions about how to use their hands and their best moves and their go-to moves, and Coach Carter always coaches us up on how to use our inside hand, our outside hand," Ezechukwu said. "So I'm just trying to take that all in stride and use it to the best of my ability."

Though Phillips was back practicing some Tuesday, his trapezius issue has been a lingering one, so it's likely Ezechukwu will see the field in Purdue's opener on Aug. 30.

And the coaches seem confident with the redshirt freshman's ability to make plays.

"I think he's a natural end," Darrell Hazell said. "That's what we saw on high school film, him just bending his shoulders and coming off the edge. I think if you can contain the football and rush the quarterback at that spot, you can be very productive, and he's done a nice job."

Still pushing
Though training camp is done, defensive coordinator Greg Hudson said he's keeping his group in camp mentality, pushing it to worry more than just about schemes for Western Michigan.

"We're really harping on our fundamental football. Still doing tackling drills, alignments, techniques, running to the football, everything you focus on scheme too much you put off," Hudson said. "We're still playing just like it was Day 1. We know what we want to run on game day, so we're doing that in team periods, but we're really still bending our knees and running to the football."

Always running.

It's common to hear Hudson and defensive coaches yelling at players to never walk. At points during practice this fall, if someone is caught not running to the next station, Hudson has stopped practice and made players pay with conditioning drills.

Becoming a swarming defense and persistently pursuing ballcarriers has been preached, and that comes with better conditioning, hence the no-walk policy. Hudson said he wants his players to play "without brakes."

"Our pursuit has been a lot better at every position," Hudson said. "We grade it. We watch it on film, we point it out, so there's nowhere to hide.

"Conditioning supersedes everything. Fatigue makes us a coward. We've got to be in great shape, even the big guys. You've got to run."

Getting back
Dan Monteroso hasn't practiced fully since injuring his left knee on the second day of camp with what Hazell called a "bruise."

But Monteroso was running some routes Tuesday, catching balls from a GA and moving well.

"We probably could have put him in some (7-on-7) perimeter, but we want to be cautious right now," Hazell said. "We may get him back for next week, which I wasn't anticipating that. But there's a good chance that we might."

It's tough to say where Monteroso will fit when he returns full time. He can move around some at the receiver spots, but he's largely played in the "H" role in the slot. That's a spot Danny Anthrop and Cameron Posey seemed to have locked down, though Anthrop also can play some in the "Z" spot on the outside. But B.J. Knauf plays at the Z, too, and Trae Hart also could factor into the two-deep.

Monteroso and fellow receiver Bilal Marshall (shoulder) will have to work to get back into the rotation.

Last one
Wednesday's kick scrimmage is the last practice open to fans this fall.

Hazell said it likely won't be a long practice, but he wants his teams to get comfortable with changing fields in the kicking game. It's scheduled to start at 10:15 in Ross-Ade Stadium.

One of the team's final remaining battles - who's the kicker, Paul Griggs or Ian MacDougall? - then, though, Hazell said. Though Griggs has an edge at this point, Hazell said, he likely won't make a decision off the scrimmage.

On Tuesday, Purdue did only last-second field goals, and Griggs made 2-of-3 and MacDougall was 1-for-2. Austin Appleby appears to have moved into the No. 1 holder spot. Thomas Meadows was handling those duties all of camp.

Meadows undoubtedly is the team's punter. He hasn't had any real competition with freshman Austin MeGehee leaving before camp started, but Meadows also has booted the ball solidly over the last three weeks.

"I think he's done a phenomenal job since the spring time," Hazell said.

Quote of the day, Hazell on Jimmy Herman: "He's kind of like carbon monoxide, he's that silent guy. He's all over the place, and you don't even know he's doing it. But his productivity has been pretty good this fall camp."






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