Now that all 12 opponents have been previewed and Media Days are past it is time to look at our own team. After going an even 14-14 the last two seasons there is a lot of turnover coming into the 2013 season, especially on offense. Purdue returns only five returning starters on offense, nine on defense, and all the specialists. The defense wasn't really a rock-solid unit, however, and the offense has to replace almost every key contributor.
One of those spots is the quarterback position, which is the first positional preview of the year.
Starter: Rob Henry (Sr.-5) or Danny Etling (Fr.)
We will know who the starting quarterback is for the opener at Cincinnati in about two and a half weeks. Coach Darrell hazel has said that he will name a starter approximately two weeks before the August 31 kickoff of the season, and the battle is down to these two guys with a third still having an outside shot. I do think it will be Henry or Etling, however. The choice will say a lot about what Purdue plans on doing this year.
If it is Henry Purdue will be going with the one experienced player on the roster. At one time it looked like it would be a no-brainer that Henry would be a starter in 2013. As a redshirt freshman in 2010 he was the top backup to Robert Marve, who was coming off of a transfer year and was expected to take the reins for two seasons. As you know, all hell broke loose when Marve tore his ACL again and Henry was forced to start. He wasn't great, but wasn't awful in throwing for 996 yards and eight touchdowns against seven interceptions. He also ran for 547 yards and four scores.
Henry severely injured a finger on his throwing hand against Ohio State and was limited through much of the rest of the year as Sean Robinson played a lot as a true freshman. Still, Henry was voted as a captain and was thought to battle Marve for the 2011 starting job.
Then, he tore his ACL just a week before the season opener.
That wiped his 2011 season off the books (and opened the door for a possible 6th year next year, but we won't know until later). He came back last year to serve as the No. 3 QB in the dysfunctional three-quarterback offense and did decently in limited action. He had 216 yards passing and three touchdowns against just one interception. He also caught six passes for 65 yards and ran for 74 yards and a score.
Henry has primarily been a run-first QB whose mechanics have been criticized. Still, coach Hazell has been high on him. It is no secret that I am comparing him to Billy Dicken and Joey Elliott, mostly because this year could be his only season as a full-time starter and both performed very well in that role under first-year Purdue coaches.
Henry's biggest asset is his experience. He has been there before and played in a large number of games, someone no one else can say on the roster at quarterback save Sean Robinson, who is now a linebacker. I think he gives Purdue its best chance to win right now because he is a threat with his legs and that experience cannot be replicated.
With Etling, you're getting a natural talent who is raw, but enrolled early to go through spring practice. As a true freshman he hasn't thrown a collegiate pass, but looked pretty good in the spring game. Etling has the better arm and is more of a pocket passer compared to Henry's scrambling ability. He won the spring's Most Improved Award and it says a lot about him that coach Hazell is considering throwing a true freshman to the wolves.
This will not be Etling's first QB battle, either. I assume he will at least be the top backup and get a few snaps here and there. Henry's running also opens him up for injury, meaning Etling has to be ready at any time. Even if Etling is the top back-up he'll battle Austin Appleby and David Blough next season. Fortunately, we won't see another rotating QB derby after two mostly mediocre years of one.
Etling may be more of a natural fit for Hazell's pro-style offense. If he does start I think you will still see Henry on the field lining up as a running back, receiver, or wildcat QB. Etling threw for 1,505 yards and 11 TDs last for a Terre Haute South team that was very devoid of talent compared to its competition. Still, he was nationally acclaimed and impressed most recruiters.
Backup: Austin Appleby (RS Fr.)
Appleby has fallen slightly behind both Henry and Etling, but he is still a talented quarterback in his own right. Like Etling and Blough, he was an Elite 11 participant and was the top QB recruit in the state of Ohio. He has more experience in Etling in that he redshirted last year and got extensive practice reps.
Appleby is a big guy at 6'5" 229 pounds and already has his first ACL tear out of the way, which seems like a requisite for playing the position at Purdue. He had 1,417 yards and eight TDs as a senior in high school and had 1,427 yards and 14 scores in seven games before getting hurt as a junior.
Appleby is mostly a pure passer and is not nearly the threat to run that Henry is. How this season plays out for him will be interesting, as he has Blough coming in next season as the New Hotness that he would have to battle for playing time along with Etling.
Deep Reserves: Austin Parker (So.), Erich Berzinskas (RS-Fr.)
Only three players on the 2013 roster have completed a collegiate pass: Henry, Robinson, and Austin Parker. The redshirt sophomore from Ft. Wayne played his high school ball in Florida and got in very late against Eastern Michigan as Purdue was up big. He completed one pass for no gain and ran twice for 8 yards. He is the rare experienced walk-on that has also done very well on the Scout team, although any more playing time in his career will likely come either in blowouts or if there is a disaster at quarterback due to injury.
Berzinskas is a surprising name who is back after getting kicked off the team due to an arrest before last season. He was an invited walk-on from Milford Academy and was the QB at the top prep school in the nation. He threw for 2,400 yards then. His talent is virtually unknown, but he did something right to come in as an invited walk-on.
All three players were originally brought in as quarterbacks and are now at different positions. Gregory moved to running back last year, Gray went to receiver, and more recently Marshall went to receiver after falling behind Etling, Henry, and Appleby. I list them here in case there is a disaster at the position due to injury. Also, as former HS QBs don't be surprised if they threw the ball on a trick play some time in their careers. Remember Desmond Tardy?
T-Mill's Depth Chart:
1 - Henry
2 - Etling
3 - Appleby
4 - Parker
5 - Berzinskas