Jeff Brohm wants Purdue's defense to be more aggressive. He's taking a hands-on approach to get it
On Saturday afternoons in the fall, a camera often pans to Jeff Brohm scowling over his play sheet, carefully selecting what to throw at the opponent next. He may not hold all the titles, but he’s Purdue’s head coach, offensive coordinator, and quarterback developer.
Brohm will be taking on a new role for the 2021 season. The fifth-year leader of the Boilermakers plans to be much more involved with the defense, shifting to a hands-on approach after three years of issues on that side of the ball.
“I’ve been mostly on the offensive side of the ball throughout most of my career aside from a few bits and pieces and letting those guys do their work to a certain degree,” Brohm said at B1G Media Days. “But now I want to be fully involved. We’ve gone back to it being the terminology I believe in. All the coaches I brought in have a complete understanding of how this room is gonna work. I’m gonna be heavily involved.
“I’m gonna be heavily involved to create the best package so come fall camp we can install it to a high degree.”
Brohm’s cannonball into the defensive end of the ball is a pretty sizable splash for a guy known as an offensive guru. It’s far from the only change he’s made, though.
Purdue made another change at defensive coordinator after a disastrous 2020 season. Bob Diaco’s tenure in West Lafayette lasted just one year after the Boilermakers surrendered nearly 400 yards and 30 points per game and ranked 13th in the B1G in pass defense.
Marshall’s Brad Lambert joined Brohm’s staff in the offseason to coach linebackers. Mark Hagen returns to West Lafayette to run the defensive line and Ron English left Florida to lead Purdue’s secondary.
All three will carry the title co-defensive coordinator.
When Brohm announced the staff structure back in June, it resulted in some head-scratching. Lambert will serve as the primary play-caller on Saturdays in the fall, but why the push to appoint the DC title to three separate coaches? And how well would that actually work in a B1G setting?
So far, it’s been a fairly smooth transition.
“I feel great about our defensive room,” Brohm said. I think this year I wanted to get on the defensive side of the ball quite a bit more and I wanted to surround myself with a lot of guys that had experience that wanted to work together, that wanted to put a plan together. Yes, there’s one play-caller, but we’ve got a lot of voices in the room.”
Having a lot of voices in one room isn’t always the best move. Then again, when you look at how poorly Purdue’s defense has performed over the past three seasons, it’s hard to imagine it getting much worse.
Purdue’s defense has surrendered an average of 30.1 points per game since 2018 and has not ranked higher than 12th in the B1G against the pass over the last three years. The Boilers have tallied just 36 turnovers in that same window, one of the lowest totals in the B1G.
Last year, Purdue registered a paltry 5 sacks in 6 games.
Those putrid totals are why Brohm wants his defense to be much more aggressive in 2021. That’s why there are three co-defensive coordinators on staff. That’s why he’s getting more involved with the defensive scheme.
“I feel like we’ve made strides. I want to be more aggressive in our approach. I want to do some things that allow our guys to play freely and take chances and make plays,” Brohm said. “Go for the sack, go for the interception, go for the pass break-up and not just play a deep third and give a lot of cushion all the time.
“Really, play offense on the defensive side of the ball this year. Allow guys to take chances and make plays and have fun doing it.”
Along with the sweeping changes Brohm made on the defensive staff, he also decided to recruit heavily from the transfer portal during the offseason. The Boilers received transfer commitments from four defensive players — linemen Damarjhe Lewis (Indiana), Joseph Anderson (South Carolina), linebacker O.C. Brothers (Auburn), and cornerback C.J. McWilliams (Florida).
Brohm is hopeful those additions will help improve his team in a variety of ways.
“It’s about adding depth, getting competition, getting more guys on the field, and trying to get playmakers that want to go out there and be productive,” Brohm said. “Our depth on defense is good in certain areas but needs to improve in others.”
For multiple reasons, Purdue’s defense isn’t going to look anything like it has the past three seasons. There’s a new staff in town and Brohm is getting his hands dirty with the defensive scheme.
The Boilermakers will be playing a more aggressive brand of football, focused on creating turnovers and getting stops in the backfield. In a lot of ways, it will model its level of intensity after its head coach.
A lot of changes are coming in West Lafayette. It’s just not clear whether or not Purdue’s defense is going to improve because of it.