Purdue Football 2020: Position Preview – Defensive Backs

Defensive Backs

The Purdue secondary has been retooled in the offseason with some departures and some big key arrivals as well as returning a relatively experienced group from 2019. Last season the secondary gave up too many big plays for Purdue as the group now turns the page to 2020 and has the most amount of depth since Jeff Brohm’s arrival in 2017.

Cam Allen – Starter (FS)

Sophomore – 6’1” 200 lbs.

Cam Allen lines up in press-man coverage against TCU in 2019. (Robert Shipley)

Bear with me here for a second because I am about to rant and rave at the potential Cam Allen has at Purdue.  When evaluating freshman tape going into last season I was pretty astounded by how much promise Cam Allen showed and how underrated and under recruited he really was.  I mean even former Purdue great Stu Schweigert was astounded by his tape and also saw his breakout performance coming from a mile away.  Allen is a former high school QB, so he has that ballhawk mentality, in addition to his size, which he has added 10 lbs of muscle in the offseason if not more.  But I think the thing that really impresses me the most about Cam Allen is his speed and athleticism.  Allen also was a really solid varsity basketball player in high school which has to be part of the reason why he is so fast and explosive.  If my engineering background serves me well, a very big, fast and explosive safety often will have huge hits and that was certainly the case in 2019 without the additional weight and muscle.  The NFL potential is oozing from Cam Allen.

Dedrick Mackey – Potential Starter

Junior – 5’11” 185 lbs.

Dedrick Mackey returns an interception against Vanderbilt on Purdue’s way to a win in 2019. (Dave Kovich)

Dedrick Mackey returns after making some serious noise in 2019 for the Purdue secondary.  Mackey played in all 12 games, started 8 at corner and tallied 40 total tackles, 33 solo, 3 INT, 3 TFL and 1 sack in addition to a team high 7 pass break ups.  

Mackey was a certified stat stuffer for Purdue last season.  Mackey will bring a scrappy attitude to the Purdue cornerback room.  Combine that with his experience from last year and I think Mackey could be a dark horse candidate to start on Saturday against Iowa.  One thing is for sure, Purdue will at the very least utilize Mackey either in the rotation at corner or potentially a good pick to be the nickel back in 2020.

Geovonte’ Howard – Potential Starter (CB)

Junior – 6’0” 190 lbs

Geovonte’ Howard has made his way to Purdue from Houston, Texas via Kilgore Community College in Kilgore, Texas.  The JuCo transfer was one of the top one of the top 25 JuCo athletes being recruited for the 2020 and for good reason.  Howard is tall, fast and in extremely good shape physically.  Watching his JuCo tape shows he is solid at every facet of the game at the corner position.  In zone coverage he is a ball hawk, making interceptions and breaking up passes.  In the press-man game he is absolutely vicious, taking on receivers and throwing them off their route.  With his speed, closing out to make tackles was a breeze and like his press-man coverage, he plays to tackle with a mean streak.  The one part of his game that I wasn’t a huge fan of was some of the tackles were body tackles instead of wrapping up, something that won’t fly against some of the best Big Ten.  

DJ Johnson – Potential Starter (CB)

Sophomore – 6’0” 180 lbs

For the Indianapolis native, his road to Purdue may not have been typical, but DJ Johnson has arrived at Purdue ready to get business done.  At Iowa Johnson played what is known as the CASH position in Iowa’s 4-2-5 defense.  Essentially the CASH position is similar to the Dog in Diaco’s defense.  It is a hybrid safety-linebacker type roll that covers slot receivers, tight ends and participates in the run game.  This was a position dominated by Amani Hooker for Iowa in 2018, who was a 4th round pick for the Titans in 2019.  Johnson is very long and fast, something Purdue has been seeking in the secondary, especially under Greg Brown.  I think DJ Johnson will be able to be the most successful playing corner for Purdue where he can just be an athlete and disrupt the passing game without worrying about pulling double duty in the run game often.

Simeon Smiley – Contributor

5th Year – 6’0” 210 lbs

Simeon Smiley is another DB with tons of experience for Purdue heading into 2020.  In the three seasons he has played so far Smiley has participated in 37 games, tallied 67 tackles, 50 solo, 2.5 TFL, 1 sack, 2 INTs, and 11 PBUs.  Honestly I am not quite sure where Smiley will play come Saturday and it is something Purdue has also made sure isn’t known prior to game time.  Smiley has been a solid contributor for Purdue over the seasons but has yet to really have that breakout moment, could 2020 be the year?  We won’t know till a few months from now, but I think at the very least Smiley could also be another guy Purdue utilizes at the nickel back position because he is so experienced.

Marvin Grant – Potential Starter (SS)

RS Freshman – 6’2” 210 lbs

Marvin Grant prepares for the next defensive series against Vanderbilt in 2019. (Dave Kovich)

Marvin Grant came to Purdue as an extremely touted Safety out of Detroit proper and his presence was immediately known as he was rotating at safety with Jalen Graham to open the season.  Grant was one of the many casualties to the injury bug that hit the Purdue locker room in 2019, as he tore his labrum just three games into the season, because of that Grant was able to maintain a redshirt.  Grant is a big bodied, ready off the bus type safety that loves to hit.  While we haven’t seen much of Grant in person the talent might overcome the experience deficits and may be the odds on favorite to start at the strong safety position for the Boilers this fall.

Cory Trice – Probable Starter (CB)

Sophomore – 6’3” 210 lbs

Cory Trice drops into coverage against Northwestern in 2019. (Robert Shipley)

Cory Trice burst on to the scene in 2019, specifically in his third game of the season against Maryland when he had a pick six before the end of the first half to create a huge momentum swing.  Trice would go on to have a second interception in the game and a third interception in the red zone against Nebraska.  Trice is unusually tall for a corner at 6’3” but does have the weight on him so he isn’t too tall.  Trice’s ability to jump routes shows he has the in the game mindset to be a real threat that teams will steer away from in some offensive schemes.  One thing I did notice in 2019 was there were some communication problems on the back end that led to huge plays.  This is something Brohm has stressed heading into 2020, so I am sure Trice and the rest of the secondary have really worked hard on communication this offseason.  If we see Trice continue to progress like I think he will, he could potentially make the all big-ten team in 2020.

Brennan Thieneman – Potential Starter (SS)

5th Year – 6’1” 210 lbs

Brennan Thieneman is a guy the Purdue staff trusts to run the defense, something that may get him some serious playing time in 2020.  In his three previous seasons Thieneman has participated in 36 games, made 11 starts and tallied 34 tackles 27 of which were solo.  I think Brennan has all of the skill sets that his brother Jake had, but for some reason things haven’t clicked yet from a mentality standpoint for the younger brother.  If Brennan does get significant playing time in 2020, I would very much like to see him pick up aggression and play with an edge.  If Brennan has been able to find a way to channel that aggression, there is no doubt in my mind he could be one of the top guys in the secondary from a production perspective.

Sanoussi Kane – Potential Contributor

Freshman – 6’0” 205 lbs

Sanoussi Kane made his way to Purdue this spring from Harlem, New York via Blair Academy in New Jersey.  Kane was a recruiting prospect that I found to be extremely underrated.  First of all, Kane is a very smart kid who had offers from Ivy League programs and other schools of similar ilk.  Kane is also an athletic freak with a work horse attitude, so combine all of those and you have a recipe for success in the secondary at Purdue.  I believe Kane was recruited specifically at Safety, but based on reports has spent some significant time playing corner and the staff is really liking him.  Because this is a free year of eligibility for everyone, I would certainly not be surprised to see Kane get some run on defense and will at the very least be a special teams contributor for Purdue this season.

Purdue will have some limited depth for reserves and redshirts in the secondary in 2020, so hopefully the injury bug has moved away from Purdue this year.

Reserves/Redshirts: Zane Greene, Antonio Stevens, Ryan Brandt, Anthony Romphf, Kadin Smith, Nyles Beverly

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