Now, it's time for new names to emerge up front. Senior defensive end Ryan Russell headlines the group. This spring, Russell showcased his abilities to the new coaching staff and showed he is the line's leader. Another sure starter is defensive tackle Bruce Gaston—who joined the team mid-spring after thumb surgery. Defensive ends Jelani Phillips and Greg Latta plus tackle Michael Rouse III all have starting potential, too.
Biggest riser—He's still technically listed as a linebacker, but Jules Williams has made his name known as a defensive end. Last year, Williams was added to the program as a walk-on after the coaching staff saw him playing club rugby on campus. He joined the program as a linebacker, but has since moved to defensive end. With many injuries on the defensive line this spring, Williams was given some first-team reps, and was impressive, too. The rise from one year ago has been quite noteworthy—a club rugby player last spring to potential role player on the defensive line this year.
Needs a big summer—On paper, Bruce Gaston should be a starter. He has the size, abilities, experience and credentials. Now, he must prove it to the new coaching staff, that after missing most of the spring while recovering from offseason thumb surgery. The Chicago native has a 6-foot-2, 300-plus-pound frame that will cause problems in the trenches, but he must show a starter's potential during the summer.
Quote to note— "If you can imagine some sort of blitz, [defensive coordinator Greg Hudson] probably got it, and he's probably sending it at us. … It's been an unbelievable experience, because we're going to be more than prepared when Saturday's role around." –Purdue quarterback Austin Appleby, on the defensive line.
Prediction—Ryan Russell has all the potential to be a star in the Big Ten; this year, I believe he reaches that. A senior ready to break out, I believe Russell will be a first-team All-Big Ten defensive end this season. The Boilermakers' new defensive schemes favor his abilities and will allow him plenty of chances off the end. Russell may be the next big name in the "Den of Defensive Ends."