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The key to the success of the Boilermaker defense in 2005 almost certainly lies in the secondary, a unit Coach Joe Tiller wants to see improvement from this season.
With Tiller and Co. wanting more turnovers this year, that's a call-out to a defensive backfield that generated just five interceptions last season. Purdue, as a team, only had eight.
The personnel remains largely the same, though the defense sustained a potentially crippling blow over the summer when it was learned that emerging sophomore free safety Torri Williams would have to redshirt this season after undergoing foot surgery.
That's not good, considering that Williams — arguably one of the team's brightest rising stars — would have had a strong chance to start this season. And even if he didn't, his presence would have created a trickle-down effect that would have given the Boilermakers much-needed depth at safety, which is something they don't really have now.
Fifth-year senior Kyle Smith returns as the starter at free safety, following a starting debut season in which he made 76 tackles, broke up three passes and forced a pair of fumbles. Smith isn't the athlete Williams is, but coaches admire his moxie and smarts.
True freshman Jason Werner, though he's now suffering from back spasms, could see a great deal of playing time this season, if he's healthy and can learn quickly.
If not, you might see senior cornerback Brian Hickman playing some free safety now and again, after receiving an extensive trial at the position during training camp, with Smith sidelined by a hamstring injury.
Hickman had a strong season a year ago, in his first season as a starter, making 52 tackles, with a team-best-tying eight breakups. Against Ohio State, he made an interception and recovered a fumble, both thwarting key Buckeye drives just as OSU reached Purdue's goal line.
At the cornerback spot, sophomore Paul Long returns after starting most of the 2004 season because senior Antwaun Rogers was hurt.
Long was a pleasant surprise all season, before fading slightly at the end and struggling in the Sun Bowl. Still, his size, ability and now experience make for a nice combination. The 6-2 Long intercepted the first ball thrown at him — against Syracuse — and broke up four passes as a redshirt freshman.
Redshirt freshman Zach Logan, it is hoped, will give the Boilermakers a reliable third cornerback. Logan lacks great size, but is fast and possesses strong cover skills. He's banged up, though, having just gotten past a should injury and still needing to wear a wrap on his thumb, likely for the whole season.
Senior Sean Petty, redshirt freshman Fabian Martin and promising true freshman Brandon King will vie to be Purdue's No. 4 corner, should one be needed.
The headliner of the secondary is junior strong safety Bernard Pollard, the team's leading tackler a year ago, with 96.
The spirited, ultra-physical Pollard is a formidable run-stopper out of the secondary and a reliable tackler, not to mention one of the emotional stalwarts of the defense.
Redshirt freshman Lance Melvin is the No. 2 strong safety, but Purdue certainly hopes that Pollard will be able to log the overwhelming majority of the snaps at the position.
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