Purdue coach Jeff Brohm didn't like how his defense performed last season, so he shook it up.
The fifth-year Purdue coach fired defensive coordinator Bob Diaco after one season, hired three new assistants and got more involved in the defensive meetings. Now it's time to find out how much has changed.
Friday, the Boilermakers began installing their revamped defense when they conducted the first of 15 scheduled spring practices.
“I felt like we weren't going in the direction I wanted to, and I wanted to put a stop to that right away,” Brohm said Thursday. “I want to see us go out there and compete. I want us to play aggressive, physical and get after the quarterback. And I want a defense that has the identity I believe in.”
The Boilermakers (2-4) have until March 19 to start building the momentum, and it's not just the defensive style that will look different.
Aidan O'Connell, last year's opening day starter at quarterback, has been cleared for only limited work after having season-ending foot surgery in December. That means Jack Plummer, the starter for part of 2019 and the end of 2020, will take the bulk of the snaps. Redshirt freshman Michael Alaimo, a four-star recruit in the 2020 class, will also get a look, as will UCLA transfer Austin Burton.
And the pairing of all-conference defensive end George Karlaftis with his younger brother, Yanni, the highly touted outside linebacker from just a few miles down the road, has been put on hold because of a hamstring injury. The younger Karlaftis suffered the injury in high school, and Brohm said he aggravated it recently.
But their absences won't slow down what Brohm hopes to accomplish defensively.
He hired Brad Lambert, the former Charlotte head coach and defensive coordinator at Marshall to be the new defensive coordinator.
Brohm brought back Mark Hagen, the former Purdue and Indiana assistant, who spent last season as the defensive line coach at Texas, and added former Florida safeties coach Ron English. Lambert will work with linebackers, English with the secondary and Hagen with the linemen.
All three have been college coordinators and all three have worked closely with Brohm to create a defense desperately in need of change after finishing last season with five sacks and seven takeaways. It also allowed at least 20 points in all six games and 27 or more in the final four – all losses.
The reimagining of Purdue's defense hit a snag over the weekend when Anthony Poindexter, who was slated to be a co-defensive coordinator with Lambert and was also the safeties coach, departed West Lafayette to take a job as a defensive assistant with Penn State.
Poindexter had been with Purdue for four seasons, but his salary was to be cut 15% this year because of a budget shortfall in the Boilermakers athletic department resulting from the coronavirus pandemic.
Purdue also didn't play in bowl games either of the past two seasons, all of which has Brohm looking for a fix.
“I've been heavily involved (with the defense) since the season's been over,” Brohm said. “We are going to challenge things, we are going to gamble some. I want our guys to make plays, get turnovers, not be afraid to make mistakes and to dictate what happens on that side of the field.”