Purdue took to the practice field inside Mollenkopf Athletic Center on Tuesday to begin spring practice. They will continue through this week before taking next week off for spring break. Here is a positional breakdown on what has happened so far this offseason, what to expect this spring, and what to watch for going forward.
Additions: Elijah Sindelar
Returning: Austin Appleby (Jr.), Danny Etling (Jr.), David Blough (RS Fr.)
Notes: Coach Hazell says he doesn't have a clear #1 QB going into spring and that all of the QBs will see some action -- including freshman Elijah Sindelar as he continues to recover from ACL surgery. Appleby ran all of his reps with the first team offense on Tuesday, but Etling will take over on Wednesday followed by Blough on Thursday. Sindelar hasn't been cleared for contact yet but he has been throwing the ball quite a bit and the coaching staff has been pleasantly surprised by his movement.
When the players return to practice after spring break, they will be changing the way that they rotate in practice. All 3 healthy QBs will see 1st team action on a regular basis until a clear-cut starter emerges. My gut says that Etling works through his mental issues that were holding him back in 2014 and wins back the starting role, but I honestly wouldn't be surprised by anything at this point. Appleby played pretty poorly down the stretch last season and is going to have to significantly improve on all aspects of his game to remain the starter in the fall.
Losses: Brandon Cottom, Akeem Hunt, and Raheem Mostert
Additions: Tario Fuller, Markell Jones, Richard Worship
Key Returners: Keith Byars (RS So.), Keyante Green (RS So.), D.J. Knox (So.), David Yancey (RS So.)
Notes: What seems like a wide-open race at running back will almost certainly end in a "by committee" situation with every player on the roster getting 1st team reps at some point this spring. Green is the most experienced returnee and looked solid at times in his change-of-pace role to Hunt and Mostert. I think Jones has a great opportunity to step in and contribute right away, but don't be surprised if one of the returning unproven guys like Knox or Yancey see extended snaps, especially early on. The coaching staff will most likely zero in on 3 or 4 guys to form a regular running back platoon. My way-too-early prediction is that they go with a mix of Green, Yancey, and Jones.
Losses: B.J. Knauf (injury)
Additions: Anthony Mahoungou, Domonique Young
Key Returners: Danny Anthrop (Sr.), Cameron Posey (RS Jr.), DeAngelo Yancey (Jr.), Gregory Phillips (So.), Trae Hart (So.), Dan Monteroso (Jr.), Shane Mikesky (RS Sr.), Myles Norwood (RS So.)
Notes: With Anthrop still recovering from injury, it remains to be seen which receivers will emerge as leaders for this group. Yancey has the physical tools to be a dominant #1 option, but he is coming off of a disappointing season and needs to prove he can be more reliable. Junior College transfer Mahoungou could make an immediate impact. Whichever receiver decides to step up, it will almost certainly hinge on his ability to separate himself from the defense and come up with more 50-50 balls, two aspects that Purdue really struggled with last season and that Hazell is working to correct this spring. The coaching staff has implemented new drills into their practice regimen that aim to help their receivers win more of the one-on-one battles that they struggled with in 2014.
Anthrop is still rehabbing his knee after what turned out to be a much worse injury than just a torn ACL - he also tore his meniscus, sustained cartilage damage and had broken bones in his tibia and femur. He was Purdue's leading receiver in 2014 despite missing the final 3 games of the season.
Losses: Gabe Holmes, Justin Sinz, Dolapo Macarthy, Charles Torwudzo
Additions: Brycen Hopkins, Jess Trussell
Key Returners: Carlos Carvajal (RS Jr.), Matt Burke (RS So.), Cole Herdman (RS Fr.), Jordan Jurasevich (So.)
Notes: Purdue's returning tight ends combined for one catch, two yards, and zero touchdowns in 2014. Even more alarming is that the player who made the catch is walk-on sophomore Jurasevich, a dependable blocker who is probably considered the #1 option in spring practice thus far. I'm not sure who will emerge as the leader of this group for 2015, but both incoming freshmen have the size (6'5" 220+ lbs.) that will certainly be working in their favor to see some early action.
Purdue's returning tight ends combined for one catch, two yards, and zero touchdowns in 2014.
Hopefully, new tight end's coach and former New Orleans Saints assistant Terry Malone can get this group to overachieve in 2015. Maybe we'll have 5 or 6 Jimmy Grahams running routes over the middle and making linebackers look silly. Who knows.
Losses: Jack De Beof, OT
Additions: Matt McCann, Peyton Truitt, Michael Mendez, Larry Wells
Key Returners: Robert Kugler (Sr., center), David Hedelin (Sr., tackle), Cameron Cermin (RS Jr., tackle), Corey Clements (Sr., guard), Jason King (RS Jr., guard), J.J. Prince (RS Jr., tackle), Jordan Roos (RS Jr., guard), Jason Tretter (RS So., tackle), Kirk Barron (RS Fr.), Martesse Patterson (RS Fr.), Bearooz Yacoobi (RS Fr.)
Notes: This is Purdue's most experienced position for 2015 with 3 seniors and five juniors on the roster. Although inconsistent in 2014, this is arguably the group that was most improved last year. Right tackle could be an issue with three experienced players sidelined with injury (Prince, Cermin, and Tretter). Redshirt freshman Yacoobi started at RT for the 1st team offense yesterday and the coaching staff is excited about his future. With so much experience coming back, the offensive line should continue to improve and hopefully be an area of strength for the Boilermakers in 2015.
Losses: Ryan Russell, Jalani Phillips
Additions: Fred Brown (DT), Eddy Wilson (DT), Shayne Henley (DE)
Key Returners: Jake Replogle (Jr. DT), Ra'Zahn Howard (Jr. DT), Gelen Robinson (So. DE), Ryan Watson (Sr. DT), Evan Panfil (Jr. DE), Michael Rouse (Sr. DT), Keiwan Jones (RS Fr. DT), Langston Newton (RS Jr. DE), Will Colmery (RS Fr. DT)
Notes: This is the group that I am most excited about for 2015. Replogle, Howard, and Watson had 8 sacks and 12 TFL's combined last season and will look to build upon that as they continue to anchor the defensive tackle position. The defensive ends will be led by Robinson and Panfil along with junior college transfer Shayne Henley. Although still very young and relatively inexperienced, I think this could end up being Purdue's biggest area of improvement in 2015.
Defensive coordinator Greg Hudson will be coaching the defensive ends along with his other duties. This will free up assistant coach Rubin Carter to concentrate on the defensive tackles. These are the types of decisions that Hazell is going to have to make regularly to help Purdue continue to grow and improve as a team. There is still an obvious gap in talent between where they are now and where they want to be, so moving people around and putting both the players and the coaches in positions to succeed will be key.
Losses: Sean Robinson, Collin Link, Joe Gilliam
Additions: Markus Bailey, Wyatt Cook, Tim Faison, Sawyer Dawson
Key Returners: Ja'Whaun Bentley (So.), Jimmy Herman (RS Jr.), Danny Ezechukwu (RS So.), Andy Garcia (RS Jr.), Garrett Hudson (RS So.)
Notes: Going in to last year, linebacker was probably the biggest question mark on this Purdue defense. They probably exceeded expectations, but those expectations were low and they still have plenty to prove. Ja'Whaun Bentley and Danny Ezechukwu both improved significantly throughout the season and will hopefully continue to do so in 2015.
Losses: Antoine Lewis
Additions: Evyn Cooper, David Rose, Michael Little
Key Returners: Frankie Williams (RS Sr.), Anthony Brown (Sr.), Da'Wan Hunte (RS So.)
Notes: Depth at the cornerback position is razor thin for 2015. The coaching staff told the media last month to expect to see some shuffling around in the secondary as they continue to identify young talent and figure out where certain guys will play.
Senior Frankie Williams will continue to start at cornerback but will be unable to participate in any spring practices after having surgery to remove bone spurs in his left foot. He should be back in five or six weeks. In his absence, Hunte and Brown will get a majority of the snaps on the 1st team throughout the spring. Unless they end up moving a player or two from safety to corner, or one of the incoming freshmen steps up and plays out of his mind, I'm definitely worried about this position for next season.
Losses: Landon Feichter, Taylor Richards
Additions: Andy Chelf
Key Returners: Robert Gregory (RS Jr.), Austin Logan (Jr.), Leroy Clark (Jr.), Dezwan Polk-Campbell (RS So.), Brandon Roberts (RS Fr.), Tim Cason (RS Fr.)
Notes: Replacing Feichter and Richards will not be easy. Both starting safety spots are up for grabs and will probably be anchored by Gregory, Clark, and Logan. The secondary as a whole seems to be Purdue's biggest weakness going in to 2015. It will be interesting to see which, if any, of the younger guys can step up to help out next season. Clark and Gregory started on the first team at safety yesterday, and if that doesn't bother you, it probably should. Clark, a cornerback last season, has not played safety at the college level. Gregory was recruited to play QB at Purdue, then was shifted to running back, and is now playing safety.
Losses: Jesse Schmitt (long snapper), Ian MacDougall (kicker)
Additions: Ben Makowski (long snapper), Joe Schopper (punter)
Key Returners: Paul Griggs (Sr. K), Thomas Meadows (Sr. P), John Bednar (Jr. LS), Grant Ellington (Sr. LS)
Notes: Makowski broke his foot and will miss several weeks. Griggs had a decent year in 2014, hitting 16 of his 20 field goal attempts and 32 of his 33 extra points. He was a perfect 3/3 on his kicks of 50+ yards. Depending on how Meadows performs in the spring, he may be fighting for his starting job with incoming freshman Joe "Get to the" Schopper, a highly rated and very promising young punter that is good enough to start from day one.