In Purdue's secondary, the details matter

Spring practice offers teaching moments each day, and new Purdue assistant Jon Heacock uses those to offer his unique approach. Through various tests and challenges in practice, Heacock prepares his Boilermaker defensive backs for their high-pressure jobs.

Each day, there are new tests. Coach Jon Heacock wants his Purdue defensive backs to be ready for everything.

It can be a new coverage in practice, forcing a quick reaction from his safeties. But it's also things that may not seem as important—simple instructions given just because. In the secondary, the little things matter.

"When you're playing in the back end, six inches is a touchdown," Heacock said. "The band will be playing and it won't be ours if it happens."

Heacock brought a noteworthy résumé to Purdue. One of Darrell Hazell's right-hand men at Kent State, he also has experience as a head coach (Youngstown State) and Big Ten defensive coordinator (Indiana), among other roles.

In practice, Heacock is always communicating with his defensive backs. It can be a quiet conversation or a not-so-quiet command. The coach earned his unit's respect from day one.

When asked to describe Heacock's approach, sophomore cornerback Frankie Williams paused, then said: "I can't put a word on it. But he's pretty demanding. He wants to be great."

Purdue is now five practices into the spring, with each offering new teaching opportunities for Heacock. With each drill, he pauses the action and explains what is right or wrong.

"That's all teaching," Heacock said. "There's no sense right now in learning bad habits with what we're trying to teach. If you have to stop them and slow it down, then that's what you have to do. Doing the same thing over and over again, if it's wrong is insanity."

Competition will always be present in the spring, as position battles begin to take shape, but that is especially true at Purdue with a new coaching staff in place. The new regime has emphasized that no starting spots have been secured.

In the secondary, the Boilermakers have made effort their top priority. They want to match what Heacock brings to practice.

"I want to show the coaches that I'm a hard worker, I give great effort, and I'm never going to give up," redshirt freshman cornerback Anthony Brown said. "I've got to get in my playbook and show the coaches that I'm dedicated."

With each rep in practice, the Boilermakers see their potential. The playbook is becoming simpler and the players are growing in confidence. Before a scrimmage in Friday's practice, safety Landon Feichter gathered the secondary together and told them, "We need to get a pick!"

It's all beginning to click—early on, too—for the Boilermaker defensive backs.

"This is all a learning process," Feichter said. "We're just a couple practices in. If it's aggressive now, I'm looking forward to seeing what it'll look like."

With Heacock in charge, nothing will be easy for the Purdue secondary. There will be constant trials and tests, but that pressure builds confidence.

"There's still a ways to go yet," said Heacock. "It's still a learning process. Sometimes, we get stuck trying to think too much and not play, but that'll come. Overall, I've been very encouraged by what they're doing."

Chris Emma has covered recruiting, college athletics and professional baseball for FOX Sports Next since 2009. Emma covered the Nebraska Cornhuskers and Northwestern Wildcats, and currently covers the Purdue Boilermakers. A Chicago native, he resides in West Lafayette.
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