With the end of the Danny Hope Era, many Boiler fans have gotten their wish to forego the multi-quarterback system that drove the Boiler faithful crazy. So when new Offensive Coordinator John Shoop officially said it wasn't going to be a situation where they were rotating quarterbacks, Purdue fans all across the country cried tears of joy. Who would take over for Robert Marve (and Caleb TerBush) going into the 2013 season?
When March 19 rolls around and Purdue's spring practice kicks off, all eyes will be on the four-way race for the quarterback position between senior Rob Henry, RS freshman Austin Appleby, RS freshman Bilal Marshall, and freshman Danny Etling. Unlike most position battles, this one has no clear cut leader.
Rob Henry is the elder statesman of the group and the only quarterback with any game experience, starting seven games in 2010. Henry has game changing speed at the quarterback position, but it's no secret that he doesn't have the arm of the other contenders. Henry is seen as a great leader, but will the coaching staff choose to use his athleticism at another position? If Hazell wants to make the move to a traditional pocket passer, he'll look in another direction. Spring ball is the most important for Henry; can he prove to Hazell that his legs make him an asset out of the backfield? Can he make the throws needed of a Big Ten quarterback on a consistent basis?
Austin Appleby spent last season on the bench as a redshirt, coming to Purdue as an Elite 11 quarterback. Appleby has the biggest arm of all the candidates and measures up at 6-foot-5 and 235 pounds. In my mind, you can't get much better in terms of the prototype pro-style quarterback. He can play multiple sets, make all the throws, and would give Purdue a quarterback with a legitimate deep ball. No game experience is a negative, but only Henry has a leg up on him in that department.
Danny Etling was the highest rated recruit in this year's class and as an early enrollee, he'll get to go through spring practice. As a result, he'll be ahead of the curve for your typical incoming freshman quarterback when it comes to immediate playing time. Etling has a good, accurate arm and has the ability to get out of the pocket when needed. Will he be able to prove to Hazell and the staff that it'd more advantageous for them to play him as opposed to redshirt him?
The final candidate is the dark horse, Bilal Marshall. Marshall came in as part of the 2012 class, with other offers from the likes of Baylor, Georgia Tech, and Rutgers and was listed as the #18 dual-threat quarterback according to Rivals, before decommitting from Kansas. Is his future at quarterback or somewhere else? Some thought coming out of college he projected more as a wide receiver or defensive back and it will be up to Marshall to prove he can play quarterback at the Big Ten level.
Prediction: This race truly is as open as they come. What kind of offense will Coach Hazell run? How will the three freshmen adapt to college ball? Is Henry ready to throw the ball instead of being a strictly wildcat quarterback like last year? When it comes down to it, I think this race is going to be between Henry and Appleby. Appleby has a leg up on Etling as a result of his redshirt and extra year of seasoning. Likewise, if Hazell wants to go the dual-threat route, it's a no-brainer he goes with the experience of Henry over Marshall.
In the end, I think Austin Appleby is the most talented of the group and Coach Hazell opts for 4 years of a blank slate with the young man out of Ohio.
The Boilermakers open spring practice Tuesday, March 19, with the majority of practices being open to the public. Purdue plays their annual spring game April 13 at 1 p.m. in Ross-Ade Stadium.