Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, April 24, 2015

When speaking to Darrell Hazell, it?s impossible not to be impressed with the third-year Purdue boss.

Tough, unflappable, focused, goal-oriented and positive ? always positive, even though Hazell has exactly one Big Ten victory in two seasons in West Lafayette. No matter, when Hazell says he is on track to succeed, you believe him.

No doubt, the 2015 Boilermakers will be Hazell?s best edition yet, as he continues to fold more of his players onto the roster. Do concerns linger? Sure. Who will be the quarterback? Any big playmakers on offense? Is there a legit Big Ten running back in the house? Who is the tight end? Is the wideout corps OK? Who will rush the passer? But Hazell has Purdue in much better shape than when he walked through the doors of the Mollenkopf Center in 2013.

I caught up with Hazell, 51, on Thursday to get his views on his third Purdue team that will try to reach the program?s first bowl since 2012.

[ MORE: Watch the replay of Purdue's spring game ]

Q: What were you happy about from spring drills?

A: We wanted to become a smarter, faster and more confident football team. And to finish things better. Those were our goals entering spring practice. I felt we got better at all of those things. I think we are more efficient on both sides of the ball. We have simplified some things on defense. We tried to find out who are safeties were. I feel good about every position on defense. But we still are trying to figure out who are our best defensive ends. (Tackle) Jake Replogle was excellent for us. The linebacking corps was excellent. (Cornerback) Anthony Brown was really good this spring. On offense, we did a lot more play-action passing, trying to push the ball deep. We had a lot of success doing that. (Center) Robert Kugler was a guy who was unbelievable this spring. We are still trying to find the guy who is the best play-caller for us. We think D.J. Knox is going to be a special back for us. He is a short guy, 5-8, 5-7, 200 pounds, lightning quick. He?s going to be different. It was good to find that guy.

Q: Are you pleased with the overall talent level today compared to when you took over the program?

A: It is night and day. Night and day. We have guys now who deeply care about what they are doing. That is where we were struggling when we first got here. These guys enjoy being around football and it?s not something that when they leave the building they don?t think about it again until they get back here. They deeply care about the result of their play. The talent level has risen. Up front is the strongest point of our football team right now. That?s a good thing. Now you can evaluate the other positions that you couldn?t before, at receiver, quarterback, running back. But we feel good up front now. We have some older guys and guys with a lot of experience.

Q: What is the time table for picking a starting quarterback: Austin Appleby, David Blough or Danny Etling?

A: I don?t like to lock into a date. We feel pretty good about all of them. But I think you need to make a relatively quick decision, a couple of weeks into camp so that guy can take the snaps with the ?ones? and is able to get comfortable.

Q: Would there have been a benefit to naming a No. 1 coming out of spring drills?

A: If you have the guy, there is benefit. But if you aren?t 100 percent sure of who your quarterback is, I don?t think there are benefits.

Q: Who will make plays at receiver?

A: (Danny) Anthrop will be the speed guy outside. DeAngelo (Yancey) had a great spring and we need him to continue to play like he did as a freshman and not like he did last year. That would be big for us. Cameron Posey is a guy who was unbelievably steady this spring. He?s not a flashy guy but does a good job finding the seams. Bilal Marshall sorta came out of nowhere. He?s a 6-4 quarterback who is coming into his own at receiver and will give us depth. Trae Hart is a quick underneath guy. (JC transfer Anthony) Mahoungou has shown promise. He could help us. And we have a JC guy (Domonique Young) coming in the fall who we think is very good.

Q: Is getting to a bowl game a realistic goal for 2015?

A: Yes. Absolutely. And here is why I say that. I went back in January, closed my office door and watched every game. The biggest thing I found, in six of those games we lost, we were within 10 points in the fourth quarter and just didn?t finish. Being competitive last year will really help us this year in terms of getting over the hump. We have to win some games early. If we can-this team is different in terms of confidence and it will take off.

Q: Did you visit any other staffs to learn some things in the offseason?

A: We have not yet. But we did study some people and talk to some on the phone in terms of the tempo of offense, the speed we want to play at which is different from the past. I watched those bowl games and watched the pressure Baylor was able to put on people because of the speed (it played at), Oregon, too. We have to be able to do those things now. That is where we made big strides this spring.

Q: Will you always play offense at a quick tempo?

A: We have five different tempos. And we are going to use them all.

Q: Are facilities improving?

A: We made a lot of changes since we have been here. We had to. We have done some things with the uniforms. Sometimes that is hard on the older alumni. I understand their point of view. But they have to understand our point of view and make it a little more ?sexy? if you will. We have done a facelift of our building and will continue to do some things just to have a ?wow? factor when you walk into the door.

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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