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Purdue freshmen in spotlight for opener

Published on NewsOK Modified: August 26, 2014 at 4:44 pm •  Published: August 26, 2014

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) — The Purdue defense is eager to make a fresh start.

Opponents scored at least 42 points seven times during a 1-11 season a year ago, but thanks to freshman linebacker Ja'Whan Bentley and freshmen end Gelen Robinson, second-year Purdue coach Darrell Hazell is convinced his defense should be vastly improved. The Boilermakers open the season Saturday at home against Western Michigan.

Bentley is listed as a starting linebacker for the opener. Robinson, the son of former Purdue and NBA star Glenn Robinson, is expected to play significant minutes against Western Michigan, which also was 1-11 in 2013.

Hazell is expected to play five first-year freshmen in the game, including wide receivers Gregory Phillips and Trae Hart and backup center Kirk Barron. But it is Bentley and Robinson who are expected to make the biggest impacts among the freshmen, especially considering the defense must be better this season.

"You look at Ja'Whan Bentley, and the production is on the field," Hazell said Tuesday. "We come in every night and evaluate players and how well they are adapting and adjusting to your defense, and he has done an unbelievable job of learning. He really studies the game, and he also has a physical presence that can add to that linebacker corps.

"The thing I like about Gelen is that he is so strong. When he gets engaged with somebody, they go flying. He is not always on point yet because he still is learning the system, but he is a very, very physically strong guy when he locks up with somebody."

Purdue senior defensive end Ryan Russell played lots of minutes as a freshman. He said there is a learning curve.

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