With five weeks to go before kickoff it is time to start shifting gears to get into the season proper. I only have one more team preview to write, that being on Indiana in the season finale. That means I can now start getting into the individual position previews beginning at quarterback.
We all know the history of Purdue and quarterbacks. One of our greatest is currently finishing a Hall of Fame career in New Orleans. When Purdue has a great quarterback things normally go pretty well.
Purdue has not had a great quarterback for a while. We have seen many come and go. Joey Elliott had a good senior season, but was undone by turnovers and sheer bad luck in 2009. Robert Marve couldn't stay healthy. Justin Siller ran into academic trouble before his career really got started. Rob Henry battled injuries and a horrible system for his talents. . Danny Etling played behind a terrible offensive line and got shell-shocked as a result. Austin Appleby struggled with interceptions.
The quarterback position has not been a lot of fun the last few years. Part of it has been the players, but a larger part has been the system and a ramshackle offensive line that has not protected quarterbacks well. Purdue made fixing those two areas a priority in the offseason. We have a new offensive line coach and a new offensive coordinator. It looks like the exterior factors may have been fixed, so maybe one of Purdue's talented options at quarterback can start to buck the trend.
David Blough - So. (RS) - This certainly looks familiar. Purdue enters 2016 featuring one quarterback with any real experience and a potentially talented replacement behind him. The man with the experience has won the starting job all three times under Darrell Hazell. Also, all three times, the starter out of camp lost the job before the halfway point of the season. Rob Henry gave way to Danny Etling in 2013. Etling gave way to Austin Appleby in 2014. Finally, Appleby gave way to Blough in 2015.
That certainly doesn't look good for Blough, who had some up and down moments last season. It wasn't a bad freshman season overall. He completed 57.7% of his passes for 1,574 yards in 10 games. He added 10 touchdown passes against 8 interceptions and showed some good mobility with 94 yards rushing and four touchdowns.
Blough's best two games came against Bowling Green and Nebraska. Against Bowling Green in his first career start he threw for 340 yards and two touchdowns. Against Nebraska he had 274 yards and four scores plus another 82 yards on the ground and a score. Most of the final two games were handled by Appleby, however, as a concussion knocked him out of the Iowa game early and caused him to miss the Indiana game.
Of Purdue's best options at quarterback Blough is a little shorter, but he makes up for it by being able to throw well on the run. When he was invited to the Elite 11 camp he showcased his accuracy, and because he comes from Texas there have been some Brees-like comparisons. It is still way too early to anoint him the next Brees though. He needs to win the job and hold on to it for a season first.
The ability to be accurate on the run could be critical as Purdue enters the season with some major questions at offensive tackle. He has said that he likes the simplified new offense under Malone, however. I sure hope he is right. Purdue won't do anything until the offense is fixed.
It seems most likely that Blough will get the first shot out of training camp. Like his predecessors, he has the experience that no one else has, kind of making him the guy by default. Can he run the offense though? Can he sustain his moments of success like he showed against Bowling Green and Nebraska? I think we can see Blough thrive in a non-Shooped offense. He has demonstrated accuracy in the past and if the scheme around him is improved he should be decent.
Elijah Sindelar - Fr. (RS) - A four-star recruit, Sindelar will become the most popular player if Blough starts to struggle. Two years ago Sindelar had one of the better prep seasons in the country. He threw for an impressive 3,374 yards and 44 touchdowns at Caldwell County High School as the top player in the state of Kentucky. He also completed 70% of his passes.
Sindelar has all the pedigree of who you want to recruit in a quarterback. He has the gaudy numbers, the awards, and he even enrolled a semester early to learn the offense. In fact, he had the pre-requisite ACL tear before coming to Purdue, as he injured his knee in his final high school game.
Scouts love Sindelar's arm. He reportedly can throw the deep ball well. He is also a big, tall quarterback at 6'4". That gives him an advantage over Blough because he should have an easier time seeing over the line of scrimmage.
I love everything about Sindelar except his lack of experience. Is he a good enough quarterback to come in and save Darrell Hazell's job with absolutely no experience? Hazell needs to win games and win games right now. If Sindelar can beat Cincinnati and Nevada (and Blough can't) he needs to play now because another slow start should sign Hazell's death certificate.
Jared Sparks - Fr. - If you're looking for a different type of quarterback Purdue has one in Sparks, who will likely redshirt unless injury knocks out both Blough and Sindelar. Sparks is more of a dual-threat quarterback that can do some damage with his feet. Unfortunately, this coaching staff has not done well will fitting a quarterback with an offense. Henry (a runner) was forced to stay in the pocket where he struggled. Etling, a pocket QB, ran for his life behind an awful offensive line. Appleby, a pocket passer, led a read-option game. Blough, a scrambling quarterback, was asked to stay in the pocket and make multiple reads.
Sparks was a last minute flip from Southern Miss and he is still raw at quarterback. In his only season as a starter he threw for 663 yards and six touchdowns while rushing for 230 yards and 4 TDs. He did lead his team to a district title and an upset in the state playoffs down in Louisiana, however.
Let's be honest: Sparks is a developmental player that needs a redshirt and if he plays it is because a disaster happened in front of him. He would have to run a completely different offense away from his capabilities and all as a true freshman in the Big Ten.
Aaron Banks - So.- Purdue best option at the No. 3 QB position might be the second most experienced quarterback. After Blough was ruled out of the Indiana game last season Banks was elevated to primary backup to Appleby in order to save Sindelar's redshirt should Appleby get injured. Sure enough, Appleby was knocked out of the game briefly, forcing Banks to play. He ran one play and completed a pass for four yards on 3rd and 5.
During his junior season at Brebeuf he led the Braves to the Class 3A title game and an 11-4 record. He threw for over 2,000 yards and 16 touchdowns while rushing for 375 yards and 11 TDs. He has a good pedigree as a walk-on. He also has good size at 6'4". It seems unlikely that he ever starts a game at Purdue, especially with two more recruited quarterbacks coming next year, but he is a serviceable backup.
Projected Depth Chart:
4. Sparks (redshirt)