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2017 Purdue Football Season Preview: Tight Ends & Offensive Line

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Purdue has some excellent tight ends, but the line still has some questions.

NCAA Football: Iowa at Purdue Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The fourth and final offensive group is really two groups, but since the TEs are a small specialty position we can include them here. In reality, Purdue is more than set at TE, but the offensive line is still a question. The reenforcements that coach Brohm brought in via graduate transfer appear to be solidifying into one unit, however. That is going to be needed, badly.

Tight Ends

Starters:

Cole Herdman – Jr.

53 receptions, 483 yards, 5 TDs

Brycen Hopkins – So.

10 receptions, 183 yards, 4 TDs

Purdue could not be in better shape with its starters here. Herdman had the most receptions and yards of any returning player from last season with 35 catches for 344 yards and 3 TDs. Hopkins had the most touchdowns of any returning player with four, as well as an amazing efficiency rate with four TDs on only 10 catches. His first career catch was a 51 yard TD that clinched the Nevada game and he had two TDs against Iowa. Hopkins is a big target that will be great in goal line situations.

For Herdman, he can split out and be a huge target in the slot too. Against Iowa last season he had a 7-104-1 game, but a lot of that came as Purdue was down big early. Overall, Purdue could not be in better hands with its top two options here, and they will be among the best in the conference at tight end.

Reserves:

Jess Trussell – So.

Wade Buckman – Fr. (RS)

Darius Pittman – Fr.

This backup group is still pretty strong even with Hopkins and Herdman holding down the starting spots. Trussell played in six games last season and is more of a blocking TE on short yardage and goal line situations. He is still a big body that serves that spot well. Buckman is a walk-on that played well in the spring game with three receptions for 47 yards. He is listed at 6’6” 235, so he is more than serviceable as a reserve.

The most intriguing player is Pittman. Coaches have raved about him in camp so far, saying he is one of the most physically ready true freshmen on the team. It would seem like he could redshirt, but he is performing so well that Purdue may have no choice but to play him somewhere:

Tight ends coach Tony Levine, who also oversees special teams, said this about Pittman.

"He's picked up it faster than any other tight end I’ve ever coached in this offense," Levine said.

With two solid tight ends – Cole Herdman and Brycen Hopkins – Pittman is a candidate to redshirt.

“He has a tremendous future in front of him,” Levine said. “What can he be in the fifth year of his program? I could see him even traveling (this season), hoping to redshirt him and bringing him on the trips and getting him accustomed to traveling, warming up on the road and getting yelled at.”

Overall Position Grade: A+

Obviously, injuries could affect this later, but Purdue is set here. It has two excellent pass catchers in Herdman and Hopkins, a solid blocker in Trussell, a potentially productive walk-on in Buckman, and a true freshman in Pittman it may not be able to keep off the field. What is not to like?

Offensive Line

Starters

LT: Grant Hermanns – Fr. (RS)

LG: Shane Evans – Jr. (Grad Transfer)

C: Kirk Barron – Jr.

RG: Matt McCann – So.

RT: Dave Steinmetz – Sr. (Grad Transfer)

As expected, the guys brought in to be immediate help have emerged as starters with Steinmetz and Evans now running with the top line. It is telling that Purdue’s offensive line situation was so dire that two guys can walk in from other programs and start from day one. The good news is that they are doing exactly what they need to do: shore up a very questionable position.

This doesn’t make the offensive line a brick wall, but it makes it much better than it looked in the spring. Back then only Barron was the seasoned starter. McCann was out with an injury and both Steinmetz and Evans were at other schools. Hermanns is going to have a learning curve by playing at the most demanding position as a redshirt freshman, but he has a strong background as a wrestler that will help. By the time he is a senior he could be very good.

Coach Brohm called this line “average” as recently as yesterday, and I have never been so happy to hear that. In the spring I would have called it “complete and abject disaster waiting to happen”. If the line can, indeed, be average, that will be a huge improvement over last season when Hazell thought we could play without tackles (the Maryland game was a prime example). Hazell’s best tackles were kicked off the team (Martesse Patterson) and Coy Cronk (Playing as a freshman All-American at Indiana after Hazell refused to offer him a scholarship).

Top Reserves

Michael Mendez – So.

Eric Swingler – Jr.

Bearooz Yacoobi – Jr.

Ethan Smart – Jr.

One of the most pleasant surprises is the emergence of experienced and versatile depth behind the top 5 guys. In the spring Purdue might have had 3 Big Ten quality linemen. Thanks to development, transfers, and guys coming back from injury it is approaching nine.

Both Mendez and Yacoobi have played a decent amount in the past and Mendez even has starting experience. They are both currently at guard. Swingler is a walk-on that has emerged as a solid tackle who can fill in at either spot if needed. Smart is a JuCo transfer brought in for immediate depth and that is where he will be right now.

Overall, I feel a lot better about where the line is now than I did in the spring. Coach Dale Williams has performed a small miracle so far there. If it can hold up in games now (perhaps the biggest offensive “if” on the team) Purdue could surprise some people.

The freshmen that will likely redshirt

Viktor Beach – Fr.

DeShon Washington – Fr.

Jalen Jackson – Fr.

Mark Stickford – Fr.

These four have one job and one job only: transform their bodies and get ready for the future. Beach has been learning at center, where Purdue doesn’t really have a dedicated backup. Stickford looks like a prototypical left tackle, but he needs to bulk up. Jackson and Washington are probably future guards.

It is very likely none of these guys will play at all this season and that is fine.

Scholarship Reserves

Peyton Truitt – So.

Tanner Hawthorne – Fr. (RS)

Your guess is as good as mine with these guys. Truitt is from West Lafayette and earned a scholarship, but has not been close to playing time in his first years on campus. Hawthorne is a tackle coming out of his redshirt year and needs to show a lot of development. Right now he would be third team at best.

Walk-Ons

Bryce Brown – Fr. (RS)

Eric Ferguson – Fr. (RS)

Ryan Flaherty – Fr. (RS)

Graham Keller – Fr.

Sam Loebig – Fr. (RS)

Marc Roland – Fr.

At least one of these players has emerged as a potential backup. Brown has been taking (or giving) snaps at backup center behind Barron, who is perhaps the most entrenched player on the line. He redshirted last season and comes to us from Evansville North HS. It is more likely that and injury to Barron would have Shane Evans move over, as he also played center at Northern Illinois, but the fact that Brown has been mentioned is notable.

Overall Position Grade: C+

That’s about as good of a grade as I can give after it looked like a D- for much of last year and the spring. Coach Williams has made great strides to get this group up even this high. They can move even higher, too. The good news is that if things work out, everyone except for Steinmetz will be back for next season.