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The return of Justin Siller

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Earlier today a long-standing rumor was confirmed. Justin Siller was reinstated to Purdue University after a year long suspension for academic dishonesty. At the time of his suspension it was thought he would be the starting quarterback for the 2009 season. He had the most experience with a couple of starts against Michigan and Michigan State as well as extensive time against Minnesota. Joey Elliott was also uncertain due to the recovery time after his shoulder separation. There was no Robert Marve in the picture, so it looked like Siller was going to be the top guy.

Things obviously changed since he was suspended. Elliott had a solid year as a starter. Marve has transferred into the program. Caleb TerBush has made huge strides, while Rob Henry and Sean Robinson look to be promising guys on the depth chart. There is no question that we can use a talent like Siller, who will now have two years left of eligibility. The question is: where will we use him?

Siller as quarterback - This is probably unlikely because it is the position that often needs the most time in practice. Siller hasn't played quarterback at all since late in the 62-10 drubbing of Indiana back in 2008. In that time, TerBush, Henry, and Marve have gotten hundreds of reps in practice. Even though none of those three has had anything in the way of actual game experience at Purdue (save TerBush very late against Wisconsin last season) they have been practicing while Siller could not.

Both Marve and TerBush seem to have cemented themselves as 1-2 on the depth chart. Siller would likely have to come in and completely blow the coaching staff away in order to win even the backup job. He has simply had too much time away from the position to think he would be the guy barring multiple injuries to the likes of Marve, TerBush, and Henry. If we did get as far down as Henry for some reason I can see going with his experience, but even then it might be a stretch.

On the other hand, Siller torched Michigan in his first start with only a week's worth of practice as the number one guy. Sure, Rich Rodriguez doesn't yet know that it is legal to field a capable defense in the world of college football, but it was impressive all the same. The fact that RichRod's defense is like France in 1940 aside, if Siller did have to take over for some reason there is a precedent that he could do very well with short notice.

His game experience does allow for some interesting wrinkles and formations. Since he has been both a running back and a quarterback I could see lining him up for a few plays per game as a Wildcat quarterback. In my opinion, the Wildcat is that much more effective when you have a guy that is a threat to throw the ball as well as run it. That keeps the defense guessing and prevents them from keying on the guy with the ball because they know he won't throw. Siller has the elusiveness to run out of a direct snap, but he also has the arm and the presence of mind to find the open man and throw. There is absolutely nothing wrong with taking our already successful offense and adding a new dimension, especially when few teams in the Big Ten run a Wildcat formation.

Siller as running back - I could see Siller making a return to running back because of our lack of depth there right now. Ralph Bolden is questionable at best as far as playing this fall. Al-Terek McBurse is talented, but he lacks experience. Dan Dierking is tough, but undersized. Keith Carlos also lacks experience at the major college level. If anything, Siller will end up here simply as a depth measure. Again, this also opens up the opportunity for a Wildcat formation or even trick plays with Marve still in at quarterback. Coach Tiller used to love the halfback pass every now and then, employing it at least once or twice per season. We ran a similar type of play last year at Oregon for the final touchdown. With Siller, Marve, and Keith Smith all on the field at the same time you would have three guys who have been quarterbacks at one point or another. Those are weapons for all kinds of trick plays.

Strictly as a running back I always thought Siller was too big, but he was effective in limited action in 2008 at the position. He is a better runner out in open space rather than between the tackles, so I can see him as a pitch guy.

Siller at wide receiver - This is another doubtful move simply because we have a lot of depth at the position, but with his ability to evade tackles it is another way we can get him the ball. His size on the outside would be an advantage against smaller corners, but we don't know how good his hands are. The trick play element is still there, but not as likely since he would be starting farther away from the ball.

Siller at safety - This would be the most interesting position to have him at. At 6'2" he would be a massive safety over the middle. He has the speed to move in space, but who knows what his tackling or coverage skills are like. It is another position where depth is an issue, but I could see him working for a spot along with some of the incoming freshmen like E.J. Johnson. Many high school option quarterbacks become safeties as well. Remember: Stu Schweigert was a successful option quarterback like Siller and he is one of the best safeties we have ever had.

The down side is that he would have to learn an entirely new position, though I think he played some safety in high school. Still, that was four years ago now. I don't know how quickly the basics of the job would come back to him.

Conclusion                                                                                                                    

I am glad that Siller is back. You can never have too many playmakers and threats to score any time they touch the ball. I ultimately think he will wind up back at running back with an excellent chance of having some Wildcat plays drawn up for him. That is why I think coach Hope was so excited because he seems like the type of coach that enjoys playing with as many weapons as possible. It is certainly not a bad thing that we have his talent back. We only need to use it properly.