Danny Hope first made his mark at Purdue as an assistant under Joe Tiller in the early years. Many people forget now, but Purdue was lower than it is even now when Tiller came along before the 1997 season. Purdue had not won more than four games on the field in one season since 1985. Purdue would beat its designated MAC team, Northwestern, and win maybe one or two other Big Ten games and those were the expectations. It was also the height of the Bill Mallory era in Bloomington, so the Bucket spent an inordinate amount of time down south.
Three things helped change that starting in 1997 and culminating in the Rose Bowl appearance after the 2000 season. First, Joe Tiller brought the forward pass to the Big Ten and no one knew how to defend it. Second, Drew Brees became a legend. Third, Danny Hope built an excellent offensive line that allowed Brees to work his magic.
Tiller's teams scored 202 more points in 1997 compared to 1996 with the defense only marginally better. Much of that came about because Hope's line protected Billy Dicken, then Brees while opening holes for running backs like Montrell Lowe, Ed Watson, and Kendall Matthews. Even though Hope is gone, his fingerprints will still be on this 2013 offensive line.
It will be very interesting to see which way coach Hazell wants to go. He has some experienced veterans that have struggled with either injuries or consistency, but have still put in a lot of time with the program. He also has some very talented young linemen that Hope brought in with the 2012 recruiting class coming off of a redshirt. Hazell wants a smarter, more conservative football team that will not make some of the dumb mistakes that plagued Hope's teams. That starts up front.
With the veterans returning Purdue could be good right now should they play to their potential. Purdue could also be set for the future with a wealth of freshmen that could gel and play together for as many as three straight seasons without losing a starter.
On the surface having four out of five starters as seniors should be very good, but let's look closer. Both tackles in Pamphile and Kitchens started on the defensive side of the ball before switching over. Their transition has been very rough. Pamphile started nine games last season and has good size at the critical left tackle position. He hasn't owned it, however, which is what you want from a guy protecting the quarterback's blind side.
Kitchens has a little more experience with 13 career starts, but is slightly undersized at 6'4" 294 in a league where you want your tackles at 6'6" 306 at minimum. Both guys give Purdue experience on the ends, but neither has been dominant.
In the interior Purdue's best lineman might be the youngest starter. Kugler, the son of the Pittsburgh Steelers O-line coach, played in all 13 games as a redshirt freshman in 2012 and started the last seven. He is already emerging as a leader of this unit and could be simply the first of the young guys to seize a starting job. Purdue should be set for the next three seasons at center with him.
Smith is one of Purdue's biggest linemen and started six games after transferring in from Arizona Western as a JuCo. His hold on the spot is tenuous, as he lost his spot midway through last year.
His hold on the job is not as tenuous as Davis', who was a projected starter at this time a year ago but was relegated to a reserve role in 12 games. He has never started a game for Purdue and has appeared in 16.
That leaves 35 starts between these seven guys, but they have never played together as a unit. Of all five, I would say Kugler is the only one that is a stone-cold lock as a starter. The rest are fending off a very young and talented group behind them.
Hope's 2012 class was very big on linemen with six commitments coming on board. Five of them are now out of redshirt, with Devin Smith the lone guy that played last year since he was a JuCo. All but one was a three-star recruit with a lot of promise.
So far it looks like Roos and King are the closest to cracking the starting lineup. Roos split time with the first-teamers in spring practice along with Davis. King might smell blood in the water since he is competing with a player that already lost the starting job at his position once. They certainly have the size for the position. Roos is listed as being 320 pounds and King is at 300.
At the tackle spots I think Prince, De Boef, and Foy will each get a look. Foy played in 12 games and started eight last season, so his experience will have him in the mix. Unfortunately, he has had shoulder issues his entire career. He boasts 15 starts in the past two seasons.
Prince was a good run blocker in high school, as his team had almost 170 yards rushing per game. At 288 he might be a little small for left tackle, but that can lead to an advantage in quickness.
DeBoef has been mentioned several times as a guy that provides quality depth, but he has only played twice in blowouts of an FCS team thus far in his career. He has experience in terms of being on campus, but not much in games.
Finally, Warburg seems to be the least developed of the five freshmen so far. That is not a bad thing, as he can at least provide quality depth.
The Rest: Charlie Long - Fr. (walk-on), Jason Tretter - Fr., Henry Lorenzen - 5-Sr. (walk-on)
This is an interesting group as Tretter is a big lineman who may redshirt to gain strength due to the players in front of him. Lorenzen has a decent shot of backing up Kugler in case of injury as a walk-on who has worked hard for four years and has gotten some spotty playing time. As for Long, few people know much about him, and as a walk-on true freshman he almost assuredly redshirts.
T-Mill's Depth Chart:
Starters: Pamphile (LT), King (LG), Kugler (C), Roos (RG), Foy (RT)
Reserves: Prince (LT), Smith (LG), Lorenzen (C), Davis (RG), Kitchens (RT)
Third string: De Boef (LT), Cermin (LG), Warburg, Tretter, Long