Purdue’s first spring football practice is today. Coach Darrell Hazell will use 15 practices to try to get the program trending upward as he enters his second year.
After a 1-11 finish in 2013, Hazell is past the awkwardness that faces a new coaching staff and is ready to implement more of his schemes and vision.
Before the Boilermakers’ spring game April 12, Hazell plans to have instilled more optimism and a tougher attitude in his rebuilding team.
Here are five areas of interest for Purdue this spring:
Starting tackles Kevin Pamphile and Justin Kitchens graduated, but the Boilermakers return their full interior: sophomore guards Jordan Roos and Justin King as well as junior center Robert Kugler.
The line was too beatable last season, and Hazell knew it was a problem. Most jobs are up for grabs. Newcomers David Hedelin and Kirk Barron figure into the mix, as do young tackles Cameron Cermin and J.J. Prince.
Offensive line coach Jim Bridge is charged with preparing blockers for the run-oriented offense that Hazell favors. Purdue was last in the Big Ten in rushing in 2013.
Gone are two starters – end Greg Latta and tackle Bruce Gaston Jr. – as well as Ryan Isaac, who appeared in every game the last two seasons.
The Boilermakers had only 14 sacks in 2013. Holdover end Ryan Russell accounted for two, and despite three seasons of extended playing time, he could fall victim to a youth movement. Langston Newton, a transfer from Kentucky, has a chance to develop as a pass-rusher.
If Purdue spends more time in a 3-4 defense, 300-pounder Ra’Zahn Howard will get repetitions at nose tackle. Jalani Phillips and Evan Panfil give defensive line coach Rubin Carter more options at end. Ryan Watson and Michael Rouse III are also competing to fill out the line.
While Purdue is in desperate need of better play on both lines, improved quarterback play will help mask some of those issues.
Danny Etling looks to be the starter, but he’s learning, and Hazell is putting every job on the line. The quarterback competition will include newcomer David Blough and returnee Austin Appleby. Etling completed 55.8 percent of his passes as a freshman and threw for 1,690 yards and 10 touchdowns in eight games.
Hazell said Etling has the skills to be great.
The return of Gabe Holmes from a serious wrist injury gives the Boilermakers a powerful tight end combination along with Justin Sinz, who posted team highs of 41 receptions and four touchdowns receiving.
Meanwhile, Etling developed chemistry with his young receivers late in 2013. The Boilermakers are in good shape with DeAngelo Yancey, Danny Anthrop and Cameron Posey.
Purdue ball carriers failed to achieve a 3-yard average last year. It remains to be seen how much faith offensive coordinator John Shoops has in his returning tandem of Akeem Hunt and Brandon Cottom.
Hunt was the starter last season and remains an explosive runner with pass-catching ability. Cottom is a power back at 6-foot-4 and 258 pounds.
If the Boilermakers go younger, Dayln Dawkins, David Yancey, Keith Byars II and Keyante Green will compete for time. How they look in spring practice will be interesting to follow since Hazell prefers using the run to set up the pass.