September 1, 2011

Lucas dreaming big

Will Lucas is intent on making tackles.

No matter where a play goes on the field, his mission is to track it down. It's this relentless pursuit that's put Lucas on the fast-track toward playing time since he arrived on campus a year ago.

His goal?

Twelve tackles a game, which he notes sounds more easily accomplished when broken down further.

"I figure three tackles a quarter," said the sophomore, the projected starter at strong-side linebacker. "That'll get it done.

"I want to make a lot of plays and I think I can do that as a starter. … If I'm in the game, I feel like I get better as the game goes on because I get more comfortable. I think I'll make a lot of plays this year."

There's reason to think Lucas will be able to produce as many as tackles as he wants. He's done so before. As a senior at Lakeland High School in Florida, he amassed 164 tackles, including 29 for loss and seven-and-a-half sacks. Considering he started last season as a backup before starting two of the final four games, his production was impressive then too. He had 43 tackles, including 29 solo stops, with an interception, and a forced and recovered fumble.

"He runs to the ball every play," defensive tackle Kawann Short said. "It doesn't even seem like he gets tired. … He's just energy and enthusiasm and is relentless and will throw his body anywhere. We need people like that."

The 5-foot-11, 226-pound Lucas says he feels much more comfortable now than a year ago. Then, he backed up Jason Werner for the first eight games of the season before starting two of the final four games.

It was in those last handful of games that Lucas felt better about his role and assignments in the defense.

"A lot of games, I'd mess up once and they'd pull me for like a whole quarter," he said. "Now, I feel like it I mess up, I can play for the next play. The next play is the most important. Last year, that play could be the end of me. I was always looking over my shoulder, but I'm comfortable now."

Lucas says he made some mistakes last season because he was often playing on instincts, which worked against the run but got him lost in pass coverage. He says secondary coach Lou Anarumo has joked about his previous lack of coverage skills.

"(He) said I didn't know what pass defense was last year," said Lucas, laughing. "But I've made great gains in that and I want to keep improving. As far as run reads and fits, I'm still pretty good with that."

Lucas credits his ability to pursue plays to what he calls his good "field speed" and an awareness of where the opponent might go with a play.

"I can recognized a play almost instantly, as soon as the ball is snapped," he said. "The field speed helps; I'm not the fastest 40 guy, but on the field I think I can pretty much run with anyone."

Lucas, who seems to have a universally cheerful nature, says he's been dreaming all week about playing Middle Tennessee State Saturday. The Blue Raiders will be his first opponent in his quest for 12 tackles a game. He says, too, that aside from helping Purdue to wins, he'd like to lead the Boilers and the conference in tackles.

Coach Danny Hope thinks Lucas could make a big leap.

"He can have a breakout year if he plays up to his potential," Hope said.

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