There are keystones on every Big Ten roster. While there are no one-man shows in football, these are the players that change expectations for a team and could potentially reroute a season if they aren’t able to take the field.
This week, the Big Ten blog is identifying the most indispensable player in each locker room around the league this season. Whether it’s their individual talent, their importance in a team’s scheme or the lack of depth behind them, these are the guys that teams can’t afford to lose. Next up is Purdue.
DL Jake Replogle: Purdue’s most productive individuals on both offense and defense are stationed at otherwise precarious positions on the depth chart. As the Boilermakers head into a fourth and likely pivotal year under head coach Darrell Hazell, running back Markell Jones and defensive tackle Jake Replogle represent bright spots on a roster that needs a good amount of work. Neither has a lot of back-up. Since we’re choosing just one, Repogle gets the nod because his position is slightly more important when it comes to improving a 2-10 record from a year ago.
Replogle finished fourth on the team with 60 tackles (14 tackles for loss) last season despite playing at a position that isn’t known for racking up stats. He has steadily improved during his career in West Lafayette and this spring Hazell said the senior is “unblockable” when he’s operating at full capacity.
Purdue’s other returning starter on the inside of the defensive line, Ra’Zhan Howard, missed spring practice and isn’t expected to return for his final season this fall. That leaves Replogle with serviceable nose tackle Eddy Wilson and not much else behind either of them. An injury to one of the starters might mean getting true freshmen involved right away.
The running back situation isn’t much different after D.J. Knox, expected to be a strong complement to Jones, tore his ACL during Purdue’s spring game in April. Now, the Boilermakers will rely heavily on Jones, the sophomore back who managed to run for 875 yards behind a subpar offensive line in his freshman season.
The percentages of a disaster on the defensive line are higher, and that would derail Hazell's bid to turn the tide and salvage his job in 2016. This winter, he replaced his defensive line coach with former Boilermakers assistant Randy Melvin. An improved push up front (Purdue finished 109th nationally in rush defense and 94th in sacks last year) anchored by Replogle would be a sign that Hazell’s changes had a positive impact. Without Replogle, there isn’t much chance of Purdue controlling the line of scrimmage on defense, which makes him the player Hazell and the Boilermakers can least afford to lose.