Russell, a senior, is back where he began, a 6-5, 270-pound defensive end with a high-impact mindset.
He said he's fine with that.
“I want to be anywhere that helps the team, whether it's (linebacker) or defensive end, whether it's three technique (one hand and two feet on the ground) or four (both hands on the ground), whether it's middle linebacker, it doesn't matter. I just want to win.”
There wasn't much winning for the Boilers last season. Their 1-11 record pleased no one. The hope is that Russell at defensive end will be the kind of difference maker they need, one in keeping with a program that has produced such defensive end standouts as Ryan Kerrigan, Shaun Phillips and former Bishop Luers standout Anthony Spencer.
“I am back at defensive end and I'm happy with that,” Russell said. “I came in playing defensive end. I've seen a lot of defensive ends playing well at Purdue before me.”
Russell arrived out of Texas and, after a redshirt season, became an instant starter. He totaled 33 tackles and a sack as a freshman, 37 tackles with four sacks as a sophomore. Last year he had 35 tackles and two sacks.
He wants a lot more than that in his final season.
“This is my last go-around. You want to bring everything full circle. You want to touch up on everything. I've been a young guy and had to play young. Trying to figure things out as you go along is tough, but now I have it all together. I have to shine some things up.
“I'm working on finishing things up — finishing plays, finishing the season, finishing it right. Finish the best I can.”
Defensive line coach Rubin Carter wants finishing that goes beyond on-field numbers. There are young defensive linemen such as redshirt freshman Evan Panfil, freshman Jake Replogle, sophomore Ra'Zahn Howard and Kentucky transfer Langston Newton to help push.
“We need leadership,” Carter said. “He has to direct these young guys and get them going in the right direction.
“There's no doubt about it that defensive lineman can be one of the most dominant positions in football. You can make a lot of things happen, like stopping the run and pressuring the passer. Ryan has to bring that versatility to us, where he's able to help not just himself, not just make the plays we expect him to make, but also help the young guys at same time.”
Panfil figures to push Russell. Panfil had a limited role last year, playing in seven games and totaling five tackles.
“There is a level competition between them and that will make them both better,” Carter said.
Carter, an All-American nose tackle at the University of Miami in the mid-1970s and then a 12-year NFL player, knows all about the advantages of competition. He likes what he's seen from his young defensive linemen.
“I like their intensity level and their aggressiveness.”
Russell said the defensive linemen have forged a close bond, which includes group texting.
“It keeps me laughing all day,” Russell said. “We have a lot of characters. A lot of good guys. We get along well.
“(As far as the texts), it's all D-line confidential. It's all G-rated. It's our little thing. A way to stay close.”
The hope is that Newton, who never played at Kentucky, will emerge as an impact player.
“He has a great motor,” Russell said. “He knows what it takes to play the position here. He knows what it takes to play defensive end at Purdue. He helps to push people. When you have a new guy already challenging people, it's always great to have competition.”
Howard's progress includes improved fitness. He's lost 40 pounds since the fall and is around 310 pounds. Carter has noticed the difference.
“He's in much better shape. The line is where you have to dominate. The defenders closest to the football have a chance to make a difference. He has all the intangibles you want in a defensive linemen – he's quick, very explosive, very strong and very strong. He can get a great push in the middle.”