If Purdue can shore up its run defense, which ranked last in the Big Ten last season, then Ryan Kerrigan and Co. think the Boilermakers can make some noise in 2009.
The junior defensive end will have a big part in trying to improve that D, which was tops in pass defense, but 11th in rush, allowing almost 175 yards per game.
GoldandBlack.com had a chance to talk to Kerrigan for a brief Q&A following Thursday evening's practice.
GoldandBlack.com: First, how are you feeling, almost two weeks into camp?
Kerrigan: "I'm feeling about as good as you can for the second week of camp. My body is feeling a lot better than it has in the past. Everyone has bumps and bruises now, but other than that I'm fine."
GoldandBlack.com: Before camp, you had high hopes for this defense. Are you feeling the same way now?
Kerrigan: "Definitely. The first couple days we were kind of still a little bit slow in our defensive development, but over the course of the two weeks we've really progressed and we're really coming together as a unit. Everyone's buying into the 'One' philosophy and our defense is really playing well now."
GoldandBlack.com: With a veteran defense, have you guys tried to soak up a lot of information in a short amount of time?
Kerrigan: "We have, but that's part of it. It's what training camp is for, to get better in your assignments, and I think for the most part we've done a good job with that. Guys aren't making many mental errors and that often was a big defect to us last year, mental errors and gap assignments and run fit (mistakes). That really was a problem for us last year, so installing all these defenses really on has ingrained them in our memory and when it's time to play we know what to do."
GoldandBlack.com: When you look at Purdue's rush defense a season ago, which was its biggest deficiency, was the biggest issue simply allowing too many big plays?
Kerrigan: "Absolutely, a couple games we'd give up about 50 yards rushing for a certain guy then he'd break off like a 60- or 75-yard run and it would throw it all down the drain. We've got to eliminate big plays and we've got to be sound defensively and consistent every snap and that will really help us out in our run defense."
GoldandBlack.com: Can the defense carry the team this season, if needed?
Kerrigan: "The defense, we're ready to carry the team. We've got so many people back and so much experience back that we should be the ones to carry the team, but our offense isn't bad either. It's very good in fact, and it will be just fine. We'll feed off each other and get momentum from each other. The defense will definitely be leaders on the team, but so will the offense. It'll be generally balanced I believe."
GoldandBlack.com: Has the offense surprised you, considering its youth?
Kerrigan: "Definitely, a lot of freshmen have really stepped up, especially at wide receiver I've noticed and the offensive line is getting tougher every day. That's going to be huge for us because as everyone knows the offensive line is a very integral part of the game. I think our offense is going to be just fine."
GoldandBlack.com: When you and Mike Neal line up on the same side, how disruptive is that going to be for the opposing offense?
Kerrigan: "Our 1-2 punch will be really good this year, but then again, our whole defensive line, they can't really double-team anybody. So it's kind of like 'Pick your poison,' if you pick one guy another guy is free and vice versa. But definitely playing with Mike Neal on one side will take a lot of pressure off both of us, because you can't single block Mike because it's basically over for that offensive lineman."
GoldandBlack.com: How will this season's defense be different than last year's?
Kerrigan: "I think total defense. We had a good pass defense last year, but like you said, we need to pick up the run game, stuff the run better, and that comes down to gap assignments and run fits. That's all it comes down to and everyone has to play tough.
"I see it in our group right now. We've got Kawann Short, Nick Mondek and Neal right in the middle and they're all so big and so strong that none of them are going to get pushed out of there. And then on the ends, we're really solid as well, so I think our run defense will be vastly improved."
GoldandBlack.com: Would you describe this defense as much more stable than in year's past, when you had questions about the secondary or linebackers?
Kerrigan: "All of our linebackers were a question of concern last year, but all of our linebackers who are playing right now have experience and that's going to be huge for us because you can't play nickel for an entire game against a run team such as the Iowas and Wisconsins of the world, so being able to line up in a regular defense, base 4-3, against those teams will definitely help us out."
GoldandBlack.com: From your personal standpoint, you've had some injuries, minor ones, that have slowed you in past years. Are you feeling good at this point?
Kerrigan: "I feel much better than in the past. I've had a couple unfortunate injuries during my first two training camps here, but this year, for the most part, I've felt fairly healthy, except for the occasional muscle pulls and aches, but that's just part of camp."
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