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Coach's Corner: Defense must move on without Markus Bailey

MORE: Purdue loses Bailey for season | Podcast on Markus Bailey injury

Derrick Barnes was right by Markus Bailey when he hurt his knee at practice on Tuesday.

“I was really right in front of him,” said Barnes. "When he dropped, I was looking up, he made the play. We went no pads for a reason (at Tuesday's practice). We weren't expecting anything to happen like that.

"You know Markus, he was giving great effort, came down, I saw him fall to the ground. I thought it was one of those things were somebody hit his knee. … When he grabbed his knee, he said 'It’s over.' "

Bailey was hurt in a non-contract drill. Jeff Brohm announced today that the fifth-year senior linebacker will miss the remainder of the season. How will not having the co-captain and leader impact the defense?

“We all know what kind of a player Markus was,” said junior defensive back Simeon Smiley. "He played really fast, usually the first one to the ball. A lot of us, including myself, are gonna have to try to take that role. Someone may miss a tackle, now we have to be there.”

Bailey was primed for a big season. He was No. 2 on the team in tackles this season with 14, showing playmaking ability after undergoing hip surgery in the offseason that caused him to miss spring drills. He appeared in three games in 2015 before a knee injury ended his season. Now, this: another knee injury.

“I talked to him earlier in the day,” said Smiley. "He seems like he's handling it well, at least from the outside. But on the inside, it's probably eating him up.”

Barnes, a junior, still can’t believe it.

"I was hoping I didn't get that text early on about his knee,” said Barnes. “It's one of those things as a defense we have to pick up the pace now. I know Markus is a big impact on our team. He's getting ready for the NFL and I hope the best for him and pray for him every night. Hopefully, as a defense, we still can do some things on the field.”

Where do things have to pick up?

"I'd say all around," said Barnes. "I wouldn’t say there is a specific spot. I know the linebackers are kind of down in depth right now. He’s the quarterback of the defense. The defensive line has to step up more in terms of knowing where to go … "

Could Barnes move back to linebacker? That's the spot he played before moving to “Leo” prior to last year's Music City Bowl.

“No, not to that point yet,” said Barnes. “But, I’m always on alert. I still study the playbook as far as linebacker. If you know what everyone is doing on defense, it kind of helps you as a player. If it was to happen, I guess I'd have to step up and take that role.”

Brohm said today junior Cornel Jones will fill Bailey's spot, starting alongside Ben Holt. Sophomore Jaylan Alexander also will play more.

Cornerbacks stepping up

Sophomore cornerbacks Dedrick Mackey and Kenneth Major have shown an ability to tackle in space. And last week, they showed a lot of toughness, fighting though injury to play--and play well-vs. Vanderbilt.

"I think Dedrick and Kenneth both have competed very hard, and both guys were nicked up and not able to practice a ton during the week, and they came out and played the entire game," said Jeff Brohm earlier this week. “We’re very thankful for the toughness they displayed and their desire to want to compete and help their team win, and they've done some good things.”

Yes, Purdue has allowed ample passing yards through the first two games, ranking No. 124 out of 130 FBS schools in pass defense (357.5 ypg). Opponents are completing 61 percent of this passes vs. the Boilermakers, who have just one interception--by Mackey last week. And Purdue already has allowed 27 pass plays of 10 yards or more—only six schools have allowed more. But the corners have excelled on the perimeter in one-on-one situations.

"I think we both have done a good job of trying to keep the ball in front of us," said Mackey, who was a game-time decision last week. “We give up a little bit, but it’s about bouncing back. And we are doing a good job of doing that."

And Mackey has liked how he has tackled.

“That's a big thing I wanted to improve this year,” said Mackey. “And I think I did a good job of coming in and making a lot of tackles, right in space, one-on-one tackles."

The corners will be tested vs. a TCU offense that likes to spread out defenses.

“They really wanna run the ball,” said nickelback Simeon Smiley. “Establish the run, and then do a play-action ... We all know they have a good receiver. We plan on attacking it like every other week. Tackling well. That's what we are gonna have to do.”

The receiver Smiley is talking about is Jalen Reagor, who often has been compared to Rondale Moore.

"I wouldn't compare him (to Moore),” said Smiley. “I am gonna stick with Rondale.”

Coach Brown, the teacher

The cornerbacks have enjoyed working with veteran cornerbacks coach Greg Brown, the most experienced assistant on the staff. What has he meant?

"A lot to me," said junior nickelback Simeon Smiley. "He has brought a lot of knowledge. He is an older guy who has been around a while. ... He has slowed down the game for a lot of people, recognizing stuff that we usually didn't see but now we see it."

Sophomore cornerback Dedrick Mackey concurs.

"Coach Brown, he is a good teacher," said Mackey. "He is a good teacher. He'll tell you what's coming and what to look for. He just makes it easier."

Brown appreciates the toughness his guys have displayed.

"The thing is, you're always gonna have little nicks, bruises and bumps and etc," said Brown. "Our guys come to practice every day and try to get better and try to improve."

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