Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer, April 20, 2016
It?s no secret that Darrell Hazell faces a crossroads season at Purdue. He needs to deliver some results this fall after failing to get this program off the ground in his first three seasons. The struggles can?t be sugarcoated or minimized, as Hazell has gone 6-30 overall and 2-22 in the Big Ten. Three of the victories have been vs. FCS foes; another was vs. a MAC team. Will 2016 be the year the script is flipped? Hazell will move forward with a veteran roster that has potential-and plenty of questions. He also has an overhauled staff that has five new arrivals, including new coordinators.
Here are five things I learned this spring.
1. It looks like David Blough will be the quarterback. It?s hard not to notice his experience, as he made eight starts last season as a redshirt freshman. His leadership and savvy over redshirt freshman Elijah Sindelar is noticeable. Plus, Blough took most of the first-team reps all spring, and Hazell likely can?t afford to turn over the offense to a neophyte in what is a critical year in his Purdue tenure. Blough has improved footwork and has enhanced his passing in the pocket. He knows he can?t run at the first sign of trouble. In the spring game, Blough was 17-of-28 for 226 yards with one touchdown and two picks, while Sindelar went 16-30 for 248 yards and two touchdowns.
2. The offense suffered a blow when No. 2 running back D.J. Knox suffered a knee injury in the spring game that likely will cost him the 2016 season. So, who will backup undisputed No. 1 back Markell Jones? David Yancey saw lots of action, but a guy to watch is Richie Worship. The redshirt freshman is built like a fullback and plays with power. Regardless of who is No. 2, it?s a big drop off from Jones, who emerged as one of the Big Ten?s top backs last season. If he gets hurt, look out. Jones carried eight times for 69 yards in the spring game.
3. The jury remains out on the offensive line. And that?s not a good thing. This unit has been unable to get a consistent push in recent years, lacking grit, toughness and a punch. If the front doesn?t develop an edge, this offense will struggle for consistency once again-and the season could get sideways quickly. To wit, Purdue finished 13th in the Big Ten in rushing (131.3 ypg) in 2015. A lack of depth exasperates problems. Time and again, the defensive line got heat on the quarterbacks in the spring game. Not a good sign. Marteese Patterson, Matt McCann, Jordan Roos, Kirk Barron and Jason King are the likely starters in what has to be a solid front.
4. Purdue?s place-kicking was an embarrassment last season. How bad was it? The Boilermakers were last in the Big Ten, hitting just 5-of-11 field goals. It got so bad at times that the staff eschewed even trying to attempt a field goal. The spring game showed this is still a massive area of concern. The squad made just 2-of-4 field-goal attempts-and none of the attempts were bombs. Don?t be shocked if the team opts to rely on a true freshman kicker. And that?s always a dicey proposition.
5. The secondary could be OK even with corners Frankie Williams and Anthony Brown gone. The staff feels Da?Wan Hunte has break-through potential at one corner spot and is one of the most improved players on the team. But who will be the other corner? The safety spot will have a three-man rotation with Robert Gregory, Brandon Roberts and Leroy Clark. The staff says it could play five or six DBs-and it may have to.
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