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Repairing run D a team effort for Purdue

Purdue's recent struggles in defending the run just don't add up.

The Boilers have had their share of outstanding defenders the last two seasons, particularly in the front seven. Remember these names?

  • All-Big Ten end Ryan Kerrigan has recorded 20 sacks, 30 tackles for loss and nine forced fumbles in the last pwo seasons.

  • Tackle Mike Neal recorded 11.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks last fall before becoming a second-round pick in the NFL draft by the Green Bay Packers.

  • Linebacker Jason Werner racked up 14.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks and two forced fumbles last fall.

  • Safety Torri Williams recorded 167 tackles in his final two seasons as a Boilermaker.

  • Tackle Alex Magee was a third-round draft pick of the Kansas City Chiefs after finishing his Purdue career in 2008.

  • Another lineman who played in 2008, Ryan Baker, is now with the Miami Dolphins.

With so many individual standouts, how has Purdue finished last in the Big Ten in rushing defense in each of the past two seasons?

"It's everybody against the run," co-defensive coordinator/defensive line coach Gary Emanuel told me Tuesday night. "It's not just the front seven, it's not just the back end. It's everybody, together."

Purdue has struggled to find that cohesion on a consistent basis. Gaps haven't always been controlled. The line hasn't always fit where it's supposed to. And when opposing ball-carriers break through the first wall of defenders, tackles haven't always been made.

Enter Emanuel, a seasoned defensive line coach whose extensive résumé includes a previous stint at Purdue from 1997-2004. He worked alongside current Boilers head coach Danny Hope from 1997-2001 and mentored standout linemen like Anthony Spencer, Shaun Phillips and Akin Ayodele.

When Emanuel returned to West Lafayette, he saw a defense that had the parts but didn't always play well as a whole.

The best news?

"The biggest thing is we don't have guys with a bunch of egos," Emanuel said.

Kerrigan sets the tone for the group. He's one of the nation's best pass rushers, but you'd never guess it if you met him off the field.

Emanuel sees similarities between Kerrigan and the other stars he has coached, including Spencer, Phillips and former Boiler Rob Ninkovich.

"They loved football, they didn't have egos, they loved practicing, they loved to play, they were interested in learning and they wanted to be good," Emanuel said. "He's [Kerrigan] probably one of the more coachable big-time players I've been around. He has no ego at all."

Kerrigan and junior end Gerald Gooden have taken charge of the group, but Emanuel also likes his young linemen like Kawann Short, Brandon Taylor, Justin Kitchens and Bruce Gaston, a true freshman who should see the field this fall. He hopes the sum of the parts finally stuffs the run in 2010.

"You have to do some scheming, but it’s basically fundamentals: emphasize tackling a little bit more, having a system of tackling, having a team that runs to the ball, emphasizing 11 hats to the ball," Emanuel said of his preseason plan. "It's a work in progress.

"It’s not going to be fixed overnight, but it has to be."