Purdue comes into the season needing to replace David Hedlin at left tackle, and essentially Cam Cermin at right tackle because of a troublesome shoulder that took its time to heal after offseason shoulder surgery. The tackle positions are the premier offensive line positions. If you don’t have competent guys on the ends of the line, running and passing the ball becomes impossible. Purdue has some interesting solutions on the roster at tackle, but it remains to be seen if they actually work.
Martesse Patterson: RS SO – 6’3 – 340
Martesse Patterson is Purdue’s best offensive linemen. The big man from Columbus, Ohio moves his feet incredibly well for someone who weighs well over 300 pounds. I think he will end up making quite a bit of money in the NFL once his playing days at Purdue are over. The issue, however, is probably one someone of Patterson’s stature has rarely heard; he’s a bit short for the position. Patterson has ideal size for an interior lineman, but on the outside, you mostly see taller guys with long arms. If you’ll notice, most of the players Purdue recruits to play tackle are 6’5 and taller. That being said, you put your best linemen at left tackle, and that is Patterson. He will be a beast in run blocking, as he will often be lined up against smaller, quicker defensive ends. He should have no problem ploughing them out of the way, and paving the way for Markel Jones off the left side of the line.
I do have two concerns though: pass blocking and conditioning. When Purdue throws the ball, will Patterson be able to handle the speed rush off the corner. If I’m coaching the other defense, I’m sending my speed rusher off the corner on any passing down. No bull rush, no spin move, just straight up speed around the corner. Can Patterson move his massive, but somewhat squatty, frame fast enough to cut off the corner? It’s a question that might determine the fate of the Boilermaker offense this year, and subsequently, the jobs of the Purdue coaching staff. I also worry a little about Patterson’s conditioning. Is he going to be in good enough shape to continue to cut off defensive ends in the 4th quarter? The next guy on the preview might provide the answer.
Cameron Cermin: RS SR - 6’5 – 325
I think everyone had Cermin, from my current stomping grounds of College Station, Texas, penciled into a starting spot this year. Cermin started 5 games at left tackle and 3 at right tackle as a sophomore, and started all 12 games at right tackle last season. Unfortunately, Cermin ended the season with a bad shoulder, got it fixed in the offseason, and has been slow to recover. He’s back and practicing now, but appears to be more of a super sub than a starter at this juncture. He’s worked at left tackle, guard, and center in fall camp, and will probably be the first reserve at all those positions. Ironically, the one position he hasn’t played is right tackle, and it appears that’s also the one position he won’t be backing up this season.
I expect to see Cermin play a good bit this season. My hope is that he can spell Patterson at the left tackle position every game, allowing Patterson to remain fresh in the 4th quarter. I look at Purdue’s roster, and he is the only option behind Patterson unless Purdue plans on throwing some seriously young players on the field. That being said, if you’re only going to have two functional left tackles on the roster, it’s nice to have a back up with Cermin’s vast experience. Cermin might not be a starter this year, but behind Patterson, he might be the most important lineman…if the shoulder holds up.
Grant Hermanns: FR – 6’7 – 265
Grant has the look of several former Boilermakers during the Tiller era that came in tall and skinny, and ended up as beastly left tackles. Hermanns is a great athlete, not just for someone his size, but in general. He managed to win a state wrestling championship in New Mexico at 6’7. That takes an incredible amount of strength, quickness, flexibility, and stamina, all attributes of a great left tackle. If you’re looking for Grant this year, check the weight room and the training table, because he’s a certain redshirt. I personally think he ends up being the steal of the 2016 recruiting class, and the long term solution for Purdue at left tackle.
Matt McCann: RS FR – 6’6 – 315
McCann was one of the highest ranked players in Purdue’s 2015 class, and for good reason, he is a monster at right tackle. Coming out of Bishop Chatard in Indianapolis, McCann spearheaded an almost run only Chatard offense. I watched quite a bit of his high school film, and he has a nasty attitude on the field. He doesn’t just want to block the opposition, he wants to destroy them. He plays until the echo of the whistle, and wants nothing more than to stand over his dispatched foe at the end of every play. McCann’s only issue is in pass protection, mainly because I’ve never seen him do it. I’m sure Chatard occasionally passed the ball, but those occasions were few and far between. When he signed, I said that the next time he pass protects might be the first time he pass protects, and that remains true. Right tackle doesn’t have the same pass blocking responsibilities as right tackle, but in the Big10, if you can’t get out and pass block, regardless if you’re on the right or the left, your quarterback is going to get murdered. McCann appears to have the inside track to the starting right tackle position this year. He has the size and he has the attitude. If he is serviceable in pass protection, he might be the starting right tackle for the next four years.
Jalen Neal: JuCo JR – 6’7 – 300
Purdue needed to add a game ready tackle in the 2016 recruiting class, and went out and signed Jalen Neal from Scottsdale, AZ. Neal has the size to play in the Big10 right away and is currently fighting it out with McCann for the starting job. Neal is a little behind because he didn’t manage to make it to West Lafayette for Spring practice, but his physical skills are undeniable. He has good feet, long arms, and while he isn’t the grinder that McCann is in the run game, he is probably a better overall athlete and pass protector. Neal is a determined guy that didn’t sign with Purdue to sit on the bench. I think McCann gets the nod at starting right tackle, but I also expect to see Neal on the field, especially against pass rushing strong side ends.
Bearooz Yacoobi: RS SO – 6’5 – 295
Yacoobi seems like a guy that has made a push in Spring practice the last two years, only to fizzle out. He has good size for the position, and came into Purdue from Dearborn, MI as a solid 3* recruit, but he has yet to put it all together and get on the field. Yacoobi looks to provide some depth at the right tackle position, and could be called into action with a few injuries, but at this time, I just don’t see him getting on the field. He’s still a guy with some upside that needs to keep grinding, but he needs to make a move before he finds himself completely buried on the depth chart by younger players.
Tanner Hawthorne: FR – 6’6 – 275
Hawthorne, like Hermanns, is a developmental tackle prospect from the 2016 recruiting class. Hailing from Glendale, AZ, Hawthorne brings prototypical size to the tackle position for Purdue. He could potentially move to the left side of the line, or move inside, but at this time, I think I probably lands at right tackle. He is another guy that will spend most of his freshman year in the weight room and the training table, getting bigger and preparing to compete for a position next year. I don’t see Hawthorne playing this year unless an epic health disaster hits the Boiler offensive line, but he is another guy with intriguing potential for the future.