'Specimen' Short keys Purdue defense
This will tell you a little about Purdue defensive tackle Kawann Short: He's 6-foot-3, 315 pounds, chiseled and can dunk.
With authority, apparently.
"K.K. is definitely, I would call, a specimen," said defensive end Ryan Russell. "He is, pound for pound, the best athlete on the team. At his weight and height, the way he windmill dunks ..."
Wait a minute. Windmill dunks? At 6-3, 315, that must be one scary-looking windmill.
Russell doesn't think Short has brought down a backboard, but he worried about it when witnessing one of those throw-downs.
"I ran the other way, because I thought it would happen," Russell said.
Generally, Short confines his throwing down to offensive linebackers, running backs, quarterbacks and any other opponent in the way. He has six tackles in three games, and all are solos, with four tackles for loss, three of them sacks. Short is leading a Boilermaker team with a three-game total of nine sacks, five against Notre Dame and one short of last year's mark after seven games.
Short will try to make short work of Marshall at 3:15 p.m. Saturday at Purdue's Ross-Ade Stadium. The game will air on the Big Ten Network.
A fifth-year senior from East Chicago, Ind., he is by far the team's grizzled vet. He is expected to log his 41st career start, 12 ahead of the nearest teammate, cornerback Ricardo Allen. His NFL stock is high - ESPN.com has him ranked 17th overall, fifth among defensive tackles.
One of Short's goals in the offseason was to redefine his body from a stereotypical big tackle into a fearsome athlete with optimum NFL size. He is benefiting from the arrival of new position coach Kevin Wolthausen, who once coached Elvis Dumervil at Louisville.
"About a year and a half ago, we had a change in director of sports and performance; we brought in Duane Carlisle, and he is really an advocate of promoting lean muscle mass," said Purdue coach Danny Hope. "Kawann has really changed his body around significantly in the last year and a half. He carries his 315 or 320 pounds a lot better than he has in the past.
"When Kawann is playing his best, he is the best. A key for him and a key for our team this season is to get Kawann to play his best on every snap."
At Marshall, offensive coordinator Bill Legg offered a quick parallel to Short.
"[Short presents] the same problems [Memphis nose guard Dontari] Poe posed last year, and the year before that," Legg said. "He's not your 315-pound guy. You turn the film on, they throw a screen across the field away from him, and he frickin' sticks his foot in the ground and runs over there and is in on the tackle for a 5-, 6-yard gain.
"That's the type of athletic ability he has. Poe was the same type of guy, and he was a first-round NFL draft pick."
Beside Short at the other tackle is Bruce Gaston, a 6-2, 303-pound junior Russell said is the strongest on the team - and almost was when he arrived as a teenage freshman. At the ends, Russell (6-5, 275 sophomore) already has 41/2 tackles for loss and two sacks, while Ryan Isaac (6-5, 294 junior) and Greg Latta (6-6, 265 junior) add Big Ten size and then some to the position.
In yielding just 293 total yards per game, the Boilermakers have other key cogs - particularly the cornerbacks. Senior Josh Johnson already has four pass break-ups and an interception and is to start his 29th career game; Ricardo Allen is to start in his 26th.
But first and foremost, the Herd will have to find a way to neutralize Short and that front four, whether by scheme or brute force.
"Without a doubt, it's the best defensive line we face this year," Legg said. "They don't have a weak link on that defensive line."
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or email@example.com.