Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, February 25, 2015

Two seasons, four wins. That?s it. No one said Darrell Hazell had an easy job, but it?s time to show a pulse after getting one Big Ten win in two seasons.

This is Year Three. The roster is improving, but there still are glaring needs-especially from a speed standpoint.

[ MORE: View Tom Dienhart's other Big Ten spring previews ]

Here are three key areas Purdue needs to focus on this spring.

1. Find playmakers. This offense lacked significant, steady explosion with speedy running backs Akeem Hunt and Raheem Mostert-two go-the-distance talents. Now, both are gone. Who will stretch defenses and be a dynamic playmaker? The closest thing to fit that description is wideout Danny Anthrop, but he?s coming off a knee injury. (Hurry back, Danny.) How middling was this attack in 2014? Purdue was No. 11 in the Big Ten in scoring (23.8 ppg) and No. 11 in total offense (344.6 ypg). Where?s the speed? Where?s the he-could-go-all-the-way ability? Does this attack have any fear factor for opposing defenses?

2. Who is the quarterback? As Year Three of the Darrell Hazell era is about to unfold, there is still no clarity at quarterback-which was the case when Hazell arrived in 2013. That certainly wasn?t the plan-but it?s the sober reality. (Ask Brady Hoke what quarterback instability did to his Michigan tenure.) Danny Etling opened 2014 as the starter but was ineffective and gave way to Austin Appleby, who like Etling had moments but appears to be at best ?pedestrian.? Maybe redshirt freshman David Blough is the guy. Maybe not. Regardless, this spot is a major concern and must perform better. And if some skill players don?t emerge at wideout and running back, the quarterback?s job will be especially difficult.

3. Find some pass rushers. Even with end Ryan Russell-who never really became a difference-maker–the Boilermakers had a dismal pass rush. The numbers don?t lie: Purdue was No. 13 in sacks with 20 last season. Russell is gone, along with fellow end Jalani Phillips. Staffers will look to guys like Evan Panfil and Gelen ?Son of Glenn? Robinson for help off the edge. The interior is in better shape with Jake Replogle and massive Ra?Zahn Howard back, along with Ryan Watson. But a promising back seven could be undone unless the front comes together.


Record: 3-9 overall; 1-7 Big Ten
Spring ball starts: March 10
Spring game: April 18
Key players gone: S Landon Feichter; TE Gabe Holmes; RB Akeem Hunt; RB Raheem Mostert; LB Sean Robinson; DE Jalani Phillips; S Taylor Richards; DE Ryan Russell; TE Justin Sinz
Key players back: WR Danny Anthrop; QB Austin Appleby; LB Ja?Whaun Bentley; CB Anthony Brown; QB Danny Etling; DE Danny Ezechukwu; K Paul Griggs; OT David Hedelin; LB Jimmy Herman; NT Ra?Zahn Howard; G Jason King; C Robert Kugler; P Thomas Meadows; OT J.J. Prince; DT Jake Replogle; G Jordan Roos; S Frankie Williams

About Tom Dienhart senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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