With spring practice in full swing Purdue does have plenty of players with returning eligibility and starting experience. Several players that are coming back played a big role last season and it is hoped that the transition to better coaching can lead to something special in the fall. Purdue has one of the toughest schedules in the league and all four non-conference games aren't going to be easy. Still, the talent is there.
Here are your top returners at each position. Tomorrow I will go over the challengers that could emerge from little playing time or redshirt:
Rob Henry (Sr.) - Will Henry follow in the footsteps of Billy Dicken and Joey Elliott as senior QBs who made the most of their final shot in West Lafayette? If he becomes the starter I sure hope so. Last year he was 21 of 38 for 216 yards, three touchdowns, and an interception in 11 games. He also ran for 74 yards and a TD. He, of course, missed all of 2011 with a torn ACL and started seven games in 2010. That year he was 86 of 162 for 996 yards and eight TDs against seven INTs. He also rushed for 547 yards and four more scores.
Other than walk-on Ausitn Parker (1 of 1, 0 yards), Henry is the only player on the roster that has completed a pass in college. He has more starting experience than Dicken or Elliott did, but he also has three freshmen breathing down his neck. If coach Hazell wants a veteran under center he is the only option.
I do think Henry will play, but not necessarily at QB. At over 5 yards per carry for his career he can be an RB/WR hybrid with the occasional wildcat snap or two. He did catch 6 passes for 65 yards last year, so there is precedent.
Akeem Hunt (Jr.)
Brandon Cottom (Jr.)
Danny Anthrop (So.)
Kurt Freytag (Sr.)
Hunt was impressive in limited touches last year, gaining 335 yards and scoring two TDs on the ground while catching 13 passes for 204 yards and two more scores. He also returned a kickoff for a TD at Ohio State. On offense he averaged 9.8 yards per touch on a total of 55 touches. Yes, he was an impressive weapon, but as you can see, he was criminally underused in the Nordfense, as it is hard to catch bubble screens as a running back.
Cottom was much the same. Returning from an ACL injury the big back had 209 yards rushing and two scores on 23 carries and 7 catches for 79 yards and two scores. That's a TD on every 7.5 carries and 9.6 yards per touch.
As for Anthrop and Freytag, they give Purdue depth even before some impressive freshmen get here. Freytag was a good fullback and had 47 yards and a score on 8 carries. He even caught three passes for 32 yards. Anthrop had a 25 yard TD catch and 58 yards rushing and a score on seven carries.
Hazell liked to run the ball a lot of Kent State, so with some weapons at his disposal don't be surprised if his offense is more run-based than we're used to. I really don't care as long as it works. Cottom and Hunt proved they can be big play threats and there is more talent coming at this position.
Gary Bush (Sr.)
Dolapo Macarthy (So.)
Raheem Mostert (Jr.)
This is where it gets a little thin for Purdue. I am not counting O.J. Ross, who could return but it seems unlikely. Bush has the most experience after 41 catches for 360 yards and seven scores last season. He has 11 career touchdown catches, 765 yards, and 81 catches, so a big senior year is expected.
Mostert has mostly been a kick return threat so far, but his blazing speed needs the ball more. He is listed as a wide receiver, but has yet to catch a pass in his career. he has more than proven his worth as a kick returner and does have two rushing TDs.
Macarthy came on strong late last season and could be the big, physical receiver on the outside the Boilers have lacked for a very long time. He had 28 catches for 252 yards and a score last season.
Gabe Holmes (Sr.)
Justin Sinz (So.)
As I mentioned yesterday, it is time for the annual Gabe Holmes Breakout Watch. The senior caught 25 passes for 158 yards and two scores last year, but had approximately 7,208 drops. His physical size has never been an issue, but Holmes has got to catch the damn ball with better consistency.
Sinz played in 12 games last season and had four catches for 48 yards and a score.
Robert Kugler (So.)
Devin Smith (Sr.)
Justin Kitchens (Sr.)
Kevin Pamphile (Sr.)
This group is very much in flux due to injuries and improving freshmen out of redshirt, but there is at least some starting experience with them. Kugler looks like the best long-term prospect after playing quite a bit last year.
Bruce Gaston (Sr.)
Ryan Russell (Jr.)
Ryan Isaac (Sr.)
Greg Latta (Sr.)
Brandon Taylor (Sr.)
There are lots of seniors here and some depth with some younger guys, but this is also the area of biggest loss with All-American and four-year anchor Kawann Short off to the NFL. The big man, especially when Ryan Kerrigan was here, could erase a lot of mistakes. This group is led by Russell who had four sacks and will need to play even better after 37 tackles. Gaston has also been a starter off and on for the previous three seasons, so he needs a big senior year.
Sean Robinson (Jr.)
Will Lucas (Sr.)
Joe Gilliam (Jr.)
All three guys are back, but none of them were exceptional in a league dominated by great linebackers every season. In fact, Purdue's last really, really good linebacker was probably 10 years ago now when Niko Koutouvides and Landon Johnson were doing their thing. Since then, the groups have ranged from "serviceable" to "running back fodder (exacerbated when playing Montee Ball)". Lucas had 66 tackles to lead the group, but most decent Big Ten linebackers have well over 100 tackles. Robinson was good in his first season after a position switch and has shown some promise.
Ricardo Allen (Sr.)
Landon Feichter (Jr.)
Taylor Richards (Jr.)
Antoine Lewis (Jr.)
Normondo Harris (Jr.)
E.J. Johnson (Jr.)
Allen has a chance to establish a national record for interceptions returned for a touchdown if he nabs two more. He has four for his career and the FBS record is five, held by four different players. A player at the FCS level had six once. He already holds the Big Ten record and he will likely get a few more chances as the top corner this year after Josh Johnson left. He has gone on record as saying he wants 100 tackles and he's working like a madman in spring ball.
Feichter is a great story. He is out with a broken hand this spring, but came out of nowhere to play regularly as a walk-on redshirt freshman in 2011. In 2012 he led Purdue with 80 tackles and four interceptions, one for a TD. With more bulk he can be a pretty good safety.
Richards had a good sophomore season with 51 tackles at safety. Harris has played off and on over two years, while Johnson entered with a ton of promise only to be slowed by injuries.
Cody Webster (Sr.)
Webster is busy playing baseball this spring as a lefty reliever over at Alexander Field. He should stick to punting though. In two appearances (1 1/3 IP) he's given up five earned runs. After averaging 42.3 yards per kick he could be an all-Big Ten punter and he even averaged 10 yards per carry on two fake punts.
Paul Griggs (So.)
Sam McCartney (So.)
Both guys split time last year and the pathetic blocking schemes designed by Gibboney led to multiple extra point blocks. McCartney has a twitter grudge against me because I had the audacity to turn against coach Hope publicly, but he was still Purdue's best kicker when it comes to accuracy. He was 5 of 7 with a long of 36 yards. He was also 28 of 31 on extra points. Griggs was 4 of 7 with his long being the 46-yard game winner at Iowa. He was 16 of 18 on extra points.
Jesse Schmitt (Jr.)
I bet you didn't know who the long snapper was, did you? That means he's been doing his job because he hasn't screwed up, necessitating us knowing him. Like Kevin Ballenger and John Finch before him, he is a fine longsnapper.
So, as you can see, there is returning talent at each and every position. The coaching staff has plenty to work with even before asking someone new to step up. Let's hope coach Hazell puts these guys in their best possible position to succeed.