Purdue ready to kick off spring practice with overhauled defensive staff
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There's snow on the ground and the calendar says February. Regardless, Purdue will take the wraps off spring football on Friday.
This will be Brohm's fifth spring practice at Purdue, which are closed to the media and public and will run until March 19. Many questions loom over a program that is looking for its first winning season since 2017. And no question nags more than the defense.
Brohm re-made his defensive staff in the offseason, parting ways with co-coordinator/linebackers coach Bob Diaco--who ran the defense--and cornerbacks coach Greg Brown while seeing line coach Terrance Jamison leave for the same role at Illinois. Diaco and Jamison were on staff just one season.
"We definitely felt like we were not going the direction I wanted to go in and that we wanted to put a stop to that right away," said Brohm via Zoom today. "I feel good about where we're going now. I feel good about all the coaches that we brought in here. I feel that we have a great collection of great people that want to do things the right way, that want to coach extremely hard, develop our players, put together the best package that we all can collaboratively put together as a staff and go out there and compete and win."
Brohm hired Brad Lambert from Marshall to fill Diaco's role, while bringing on Mark Hagen from Texas to coach the line and Ron English from Florida to lead the cornerbacks. Lambert and English each have been head coaches, while the sage Hagen begins his second stint at Purdue while also coaching at Indiana, Northern Illinois and Texas A&M.
"Really, it's about putting together the best collection of people that are good people, that want to work hard, want to compete to win, want to work together," said Brohm. "And I feel like we definitely have a great staff right here, a collection of guys that for sure want to get that done."
Brohm was non-committal when asked what the base scheme of the defense will be. But Purdue is expected to operate out of a four-man front as its base.
Purdue has altered its offensive staff.
Neil Callaway--who was hired in 2020 as a senior analyst--is now an on-field coach, serving as the assistant offensive line coach to offensive line coach Dale Williams, who also will oversee tight ends. A veteran coach, Callaway is now the 10th full-time assistant. The 65-year-old was head coach at UAB (2007-11) and has coached lines at places like USC, Georgia, Alabama and Auburn.
Ryan Wallace is now an offensive/special teams assistant, serving in an off-the field role. He will keep working with tight ends. Wallace was an on-field coach who worked with the tight ends and special teams.
O'Connell will be limited
One of the bigger stories on offense will be the quarterback spot.
Like last spring, senior Aidan O'Connell and junior Jack Plummer are battling for the position. O'Connell won the job last season but saw his 2020 campaign end after three games because of a foot injury that required surgery. Plummer started the final three games.
"Aidan will be limited, and will not be full speed for spring practice," said Brohm. "But he's definitely ahead of schedule. We feel great about his recovery."
So, expect to see a lot of Plummer, Austin Burton and Michael Alaimo.
"Those three guys are gonna get a lot of reps, get an opportunity to go out there and compete," said Brohm. "Obviously, we'll get Aidan what he's able to do, based on the doctor and the trainer ..."
The Boilermakers have added four transfers: G Tyler Witt (Western Kentucky), DE Joseph Anderson (South Carolina), LB O.C. Brothers (Auburn), CB C.J. McWilliams (Florida). Witt, Anderson and Brothers are all going through spring drills. McWilliams--who committed this week--will arrive later.
"Well, we're excited about the additions," said Brohm. "I think every year, you got to assess your team and where you're at. Definitely in today's recruiting age, it's important that we continue to do that. It's important that we continue to provide some room and space to be able to do that."
Expect Purdue to remain active in the portal.
"We're going to continue to always monitor that market and it's going to be something that, you know, probably every team is going to make sure that they are definitely doing their part to improve their football team," said Brohm.
Transfer portal additions won't be the lone new faces on the practice field. Purdue also has five true freshmen enrolled after they graduated early.
West Lafayette High School linebacker Yanni Karlaftis is the most touted of the quintet. He's joined by fellow linebacker Tristan Cox, offensive lineman Jaelin Alstott-Vandevanter and receivers Deion Burks and Preston Terrell.
But the news on Karlaftis--a four-star prospect and one of the most ballyhooed signees in recent history--isn't' good.
"Yanni is gonna be out most of the spring right now with a hamstring that he had when he got here, suffered in high school, and actually ended up being worse than he thought," said Brohm. "We're in the process of getting him healed up as fast as we can.
"So, we're not going to see him early on, but we'll see when we can get him back."
It was thought Karlaftis--the younger brother of defensive end George--could battle for a starting spot.
Brohm mentioned several players who will be out this spring following injuries and/or surgery.
"Quite a few," said Brohm.
"I know Nalin Fox had surgery, so he will be out this spring," said Brohm. "Cam Craig is still recovering (shoulder). We'll make sure he fully recovers before we get him out there. Marvin Grant had a shoulder surgery. Cam Allen had a shoulder surgery. Aidan O'Connell, we're just getting back. (Abdur-Rahmaan) Yaseen had knee surgery this past year. Garrett Miller had some offseason surgery, so they'll be out this spring."
Brohm also mentioned offensive tackle Will Bramel (back) and linebacker Jaylan Alexander. And promising safety Antonio Stevens--a true freshman in 2020--continues to recover from a gruesome knee injury suffered in the finale.
"Antonio had a pretty good knee injury," said Brohm. "He's gone through two surgeries which he had to do so. ... he's ahead of schedule. But it's still going to be a ways ... we're hopeful to get him back for the fall, and that's going to be our goal."
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