WEST LAFAYETTE, Indiana — The Purdue defense is eager to make a fresh start.
Opponents scored at least 42 points seven times during a 1-11 season a year ago, but thanks to freshman linebacker Ja'Whan Bentley and freshmen end Gelen Robinson, second-year Purdue coach Darrell Hazell is convinced his defense should be vastly improved. The Boilermakers open the season Saturday at home against Western Michigan.
Bentley is listed as a starting linebacker for the opener. Robinson, the son of former Purdue and NBA star Glenn Robinson, is expected to play significant minutes against Western Michigan, which also was 1-11 in 2013.
Hazell is expected to play five first-year freshmen in the game, including wide receivers Gregory Phillips and Trae Hart and backup center Kirk Barron. But it is Bentley and Robinson who are expected to make the biggest impacts among the freshmen, especially considering the defense must be better this season.
"You look at Ja'Whan Bentley, and the production is on the field," Hazell said Tuesday. "We come in every night and evaluate players and how well they are adapting and adjusting to your defense, and he has done an unbelievable job of learning. He really studies the game, and he also has a physical presence that can add to that linebacker corps.
"The thing I like about Gelen is that he is so strong. When he gets engaged with somebody, they go flying. He is not always on point yet because he still is learning the system, but he is a very, very physically strong guy when he locks up with somebody."
Purdue senior defensive end Ryan Russell played lots of minutes as a freshman. He said there is a learning curve.
"Playing at a young age is hard at first," Russell said. "You are trying to find out what flies. Because you are a young guy, other teams know that and may try to take advantage of it. Ja'Whan just turned 18, and he already is one of the stronger guys on the team. Mentally, he loves the game, he knows the game and he is in there watching film and asking the right questions. He will be an instant impact. Gelen also will be an instant impact. He brings physicality and is one of the more aggressive guys on the defense."
Hazell is eager for Purdue fans to see this fresh-look defense in action.
"We are a much better defense right now than we were at any particular point last year," Hazell said. "Ryan Russell has done an unbelievable job with his leadership, and all across the board, they are running to the ball better, are more physical and are more gap sound. They are playing so hungry right now."
Hazell said sophomore wide receiver Cameron Posey will serve a one-game suspension Saturday for an unspecified violation of team rules. Hazell said Posey is expected to play Sept. 6 when the Boilermakers face Central Michigan.