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Hope Springs Eternal

What on earth was that? A game? A Scrimmage? A glorified practice? At least Saturday afternoon it was a good excuse to get out of the house and enjoy the nice weather. Plus, any time I can get to West Lafayette, spend some time at Ross-Ade, and pick up a calzone at Lovshack before a drink at Harry’s makes for a good day.

(I will now accept any royalties from the Purdue athletic department, Lovshack, and Harry’s Chocolate shop in the form of clickthroughs on the ads at the top of the page)

It was good to experience the first football at Ross-Ade in five months. Even if the atmosphere wasn’t the same and the field had the air of a dusty cow pasture it was still nice to see a respectable crowd. Though there wasn’t a typical game to play, it was worth the trip for some time in the sunshine and the perks mentioned above.

What is more unclear is what we have learned about this football team heading into the fall. Personally, I don’t think you can ever take much from a series of spring practices and a game. Invariable there are more key players banged up from the season taking it off so they can be healthy in the fall than there those that take part. Even those that do participate generally are trying not to get injured if they have already secured a starting role than exert too much effort. Let’s face it, with the number of returning players we have there were moments of Pro Bowl-level effort out there in order to avoid injury. Ultimately, that is what we want out of spring practice, to have everyone healthy for September 1st when we head to the Glass Bowl in Toledo.

Besides, if we all took great stock in spring practice we’d believe that Indiana is in line to run the table in the Big Ten this season because of their "drastic improvement." In reality how much can you learn about your team when they are playing against themselves.

So, not unexpectedly, we did not see quite a few guys this spring that will have key roles in the fall. Dan Bick, Dustin Keller, Selwyn Lymon, Garrett Miller, Jonathon Patton, and Torri Williams are all guys that are expected to be front line starts this fall that didn’t see the field very much in the spring. This can be a good thing to promote depth at all positions, but in the case of Lymon and some other guys it is a bad thing because it means they missed a chance to gain some much needed reps.

There were a few positive notes from the day. First of all I was impressed by the running game. Whether it was by design and a conservative game plan or what we seemed to run the ball much more effectively than we did all season last year. Kory Sheets had a big day, and that is a positive sign. I am excited that we will be using more two back sets this season and that we still have some of the option game we installed. If we can run the ball more effectively we will be a much more dangerous football team. Regular readers will note that most of last season I championed the cause of running the ball more in order to keep our terrible defense off the field. It only makes sense. Hopefully the coaching got this simple but effective memo. The two back sets also allow us to keep Sheets and Taylor on the field at the same time, and that can only be a good thing. It was disappointing to see Dario Camacho transfer, but I know being buried on the depth chart was not a promising proposition for him after being highly recruited. It’s a shame, because I felt he could have really thrived in a two back set.

Another player I was impressed by was Jeff Panfil. We have not had a quarterback with his size at Purdue since Kyle Orton, and Panfil appeared to be much more mobile than Orton ever was. I’m not sure what Panfil’s chances are of passing Joey Elliot on the depth chart, but I do hope he gets to see the field some time next season, perhaps in the imminent Eastern Illinois blowout.

As far as the defense goes I noticed and was subsequently impressed by better tackling. Again, not much can be said playing against your own teammates, but it seemed like tackles were made more surely, and at time the front seven was getting more penetration into the back field. There were several pass breakups in the secondary that could have been interceptions easily, and that is a big plus. This defense is going to have to perform appreciably better if we’re going to go anywhere this year, but if they do show that improvement, coupled with the offense we should have, it could make for a big year if things break right.

On special teams I got there too late to see any punting, but the kicking game appeared to struggle mightily. The defense was able to block a pair of field goals and rough Chris Summers on one kick, so in four attempts he was able to only get one off cleanly. He made good on that, and after his 12 for 12 performance in practice just before the spring game he appears to have settled at least some of his issues. He also made great strides this spring in the punting department, and should compete for that role in 2008. Tim Daugherty had a very rough day, as his one field goal was nowhere near good and he even missed an extra point off the upright. Jared Armstrong tried some of the placekicking duties as well, but it still looks like Summers will be the man, at least for now, when the season starts. He deserves another shot and I hope he does well.

And that is about that as far as spring practice goes. It looks like the goal of getting bigger and stronger has been partially accomplished, but it will be a testament to the kids’ work ethic to see how well they do in the summer. I’m encouraged by some of the progress I saw, but I only think you can put about 5% of the stock in what you saw Saturday as transferring over to the field in the fall. It’s nice to have, but a whole lot more work needs to be done before September 1st. let’s just keeps everyone out of jail and in the weight room.