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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 are the linebackers.
There really isn't much to say about the linebackers coming out of the preseason that hasn't been made painfully clear already. Painfully … perhaps a poor choice of words.
Injuries make this unit far more of an unknown than it projected to be, as it looked like the strength of the defense coming out of the spring.
But, George Hall is sidelined 'til who-knows-when (hopefully some time in September) after having surgery, Jason Werner has hardly practiced since the end of last season because of his back and coaches may cringe every time Dan Bick and his creaky shoulder absorb contact this season.
Still, Bick will occupy the critical middle linebacker spot; how much, however, remains to be seen.
It's a double-edged sword. Bick is Purdue's most natural, instinctive linebacker, making him a good fit for the middle, though his shoulder will absorb more punishment there.
Bick is a good pass defender and has moxie enough to be strong around the line of scrimmage, though he's far from the biggest linebacker out there.
With Bick in the middle, junior Stanford Keglar moves to the weak side after spending much of camp on the strong side. He'll play both this season, in all likelihood.
Keglar's never been known for his consistency, but after two seasons in the field, he appears poised for a very good junior season. As sheer logic would suggest, he's more comfortable in Purdue's defense than ever before, and he made a lot of plays in training camp.
If you had to make a list of players on Purdue's roster most likely to enjoy a "breakout" season, Keglar would certainly merit a spot at the top of the list.
This season could also mark the golden opportunity Cliff Avril has been waiting for. The junior now projects as the starter on the strong side, though he'll see situational work at defensive end, probably.
By all accounts, he had a fine preseason, doing so through some lingering back pain.
Junior Josh Ferguson spent most of camp with the first-team defense at middle linebacker, before Bick was moved inside. It's very possible he'll see plenty of playing time in reserve, particularly early in the season. Tiller may not want to leave Bick out there too much, and Ferguson has earned more trust from the coaches than ever before.
And when Hall returns, that'll be three reliable middle linebackers to choose from.
At the outside spots, senior Al Royal is a reliable option, though he's better suited to defend the pass than he is the run, and thus perhaps not an ideal every-down player.
Werner has been projected as a contributor as a true sophomore and first-time linebacker, but his health situation is such that anything he contributes this season might need to be viewed as a bonus. Back injuries are serious, especially for linebackers, and Werner's situation has lingered disturbingly long.
If any of Purdue's three impressive true freshmen — Kevin Green, Jeff Lindsay and John Humphrey — are going to play, it's going to be Green, who was an outside linebacker in high school but is playing the middle at Purdue. Green was very impressive during the preseason and appears physically equipped to play, but … with Bick, Ferguson and at some point Hall, how many middle linebackers will Purdue need?
Clearly the success of this unit as a whole will be directly correlated to its health. If it stays healthy, it can be very good and equally as deep; if it doesn't, it might be merely pedestrian.
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