I’ve decided to scrap the numbering system in this series because it was confusing people. I’ll still bring up 10 topics on offense and 10 topics on defense, but I’ll skip the official numbering.
My last article focused on the upcoming running back rotation and subsequent doling out of snaps on a per game basis.
Today I’m going to look at the offensive line.
Last season, I predicted Purdue would finish with 3-5 wins, and I was pleasantly wrong. One of the main reasons for my skepticism was the offensive line. I thought it had the potential to be historically bad.
Purdue’s line last year was surprisingly average. They were decent in run blocking and not terrible in pass protection. Purdue started the following players in their opener vs Louisville:
LT: RS Freshman
LG: Norther Illinois Grad Transfer
C: Only known contributor
RG: Converted RT coming off shoulder surgery
RT: Rhode Island Grad Transfer
This looked like a potential disaster, but the guys quickly came together and worked as a fairly cohesive unit, and even managed to get some decent push up the middle in the games following the Louisville loss.
Then Grant Hermanns went down and Purdue had to move on to a former walk-on at LT. It looked like Purdue could be in trouble again, but Eric Swingler, coming off a knee injury that put him on the bench all of 2016, came in a performed admirably at one of the most demanding positions in football. Without Swingler, I don’t think Purdue makes it to a bowl game.
Dale Williams deserves a raise. He turned a bunch of spare parts into a cohesive group in a a few months. This highlights just how important bringing in exceptional assistant coaches is to a program instead of the Morgan Burke method of scouring the unemployment lines for the cheapest possible option.
This season, Coach Williams has the opportunity to do more fine tuning, instead of having to piece together an entire engine. I think we pretty much know what the starting 5 is going to look like (barring injuries) for Purdue on 8/30 when Northwester rolls into town.
LT: Grant Hermanns - RS SO - 6’7, 300
LG: Shane Evans - SR - 6’3, 310
C: Kirk Barron - SR - 6’2 - 300
RG: Matt McCann - JR - 6’6 - 315
RT: Eric Swingler - SR - 6’6 - 295
The only real question I have are the tackle positions. I think Hermanns and Swingler both start, but it’s possible that they swap positions, depending on how healthy Hermanns is after coming off knee surgery. It’s possible that Swingler starts on the more athletically demanding left side of the line, at least until Hermanns has his confidence back in his knee (that is assuming that all is right with Swinglers back).
I think Hermanns is still the obvious long term solution for Purdue at left tackle and it wouldn’t surprise me to see the big guy from New Mexico make some money playing football on the next level if he can remain healthy and continue on his current trajectory.
With the starters somewhat set, we can now look at what Purdue has in terms of depth:
Mark Stickford: RS FR - 6’5, 285
The former wide receiver from Carmel saw a good bit of action and a ton of reps this spring with both Hermanns (knee) and Swingler (back) out. Stickford made great use of his redshirt season, packing at least 30-35 pounds onto his 6’6 frame. At 6’6, he probably still needs to add another 10-15 pounds to compete on an every snap basis in the Big10, but I don’t forsee that being a problem, based on his current improvement. He’s going to have a bunch of true freshman biting at his heels for the right to be the first tackle off the bench, but I think Stickford holds onto his spot and sees some decent snaps this season at left tackle.
Ethan Smart: SR - 6’6, 310
It’s now or never for Smart. Some people thought he would come in and grab a starting spot last season, but the JuCo only saw action in 5 games last season. Smart still has an opportunity to be a contributor for the Boilermakers. It usually takes a season for JuCo guys to get their feet under them and adjust to the demands of FBS football. Smart has the size and ability to help Purdue out in the offensive line rotation at either tackle position. Ideally, he grabs a spot in the depth chart and allows Purdue to redshirt their incoming tackles.
Viktor Beach: RS FR - 6’4 - 305
Beach is another player Purdue had the luxury of redshirting last year, and the big man from Ft. Myers, Fla used that time to pack on another 10 pounds. Beach looks like a nasty mauler in his high school film, and that should be perfect for the right tackle position. Ideally, Beach is on the depth chart next fall and gets in some live game snaps.
After consulting with Kyle, I have learned that Beach is running with the 2’s as the center. I have a little trouble keeping track of the RS guys, since I don’t get to any practices. That’s an interesting development for a guy who came in as a tackle, but not altogether surprising considering Purdue’s need for a backup center and heir apparent to the position.
DJ Washington: RS FR - 6’4 - 285
Washington is an interesting prospect, because I think he is probably best suited as a left tackle, but at the same time, Brohm really prefers a taller player at that position. That said, Washington has excellent feet, and could make a move up the depth charts if he can bring more run blocking and nastiness to his game. I think he will battle Stickford in fall camp for the opportunity to see snaps at left tackle, but it’s also possible that he could move inside and challenge for some of the Truitt/Yacoobi snaps.
Michael Mendez: JR - 6’4 - 295
Mendez gives Purdue a lineman with experience playing both guard and tackle. Coach Williams seems to think that guard is better suited for Mendez, but he’s nice to have in a “break in case of emergency” option at tackle. Mendez is an athletic guy that appeared in 11 games as a reserve last season. He’s best in pass protection and when he can pull out and use his athleticism from the guard position. I anticipate Mendez being the first guard off the bench and seeing plenty of playing time. Mendez could also be the back up center, should iron man Kirk Barron need a breather.
Bearooz Yacoobi: SR - 6’5 - 300
One thing I love about this coaching staff is they actually utilize the players on their roster. Yacoobi was lost on the depth chart during the Hazell era, and while the rest of the starters played iron man football, he sat and watched. Brohm and Williams have made it clear that if you’re on the roster and handling your business, you’re going to play. Yacoobi appeared in 7 games last season, and based on the film I watched, did a credible job at right guard when called upon. If he can stay in the rotation and give Purdue some credible reserve snaps, the program will be better off long term. I see no reason why this won’t happen.
Peyton Truitt: JR - 6’5 - 285
The West Lafayette product was another beneficiary of Purdue’s more liberal substitution patterns last season. Coach Williams moved Truitt inside to guard, and that appears to suit his skill set more than the tackle position. Truitt appeared in 9 games last season, and contributed in some important games on the interior line. He is another player that needs to hold onto his position for the long term benefit of the team.
I won’t list them quite yet, because I think Purdue has designs on redshirting the entire offensive line class unless someone shows up bigger than expected or has a dominating fall camp.
The only possible exception could be Charles Allen, who might be the heir apparent to Kirk Barron at center. He is certainly big enough and strong enough to see the field this year, and the coaches may want to get him some snaps, but again, I think ideally, he spends a year working on his body and getting ready for 2019.