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Purdue Football: Questions for Fall Camp - Offensive Line

Spring practice didn’t answer the questions on the offensive line. Fall camp will will be interesting for the big boys.

NCAA Football: Purdue at Indiana Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Spring ball is in the rear view mirror and summer workouts are in full swing. The big boys on the line are pumping iron, downing gallons of protein shakes, and getting ready to push around other big boys in fall camp. If ever there were a time for a Purdue lineman to be in peak condition heading into camp, it would be this year. The depth chart is wide open and a young guy could grab a spot and hold on for the next few years.

The Somewhat Known

Left Tackle - Grant Hermanns - Jr

Hermanns is a two year starter at left tackle. Normally that would mean the position is locked down and stable. While Hermanns is a two year starter, he’s yet to be a two year finisher, after suffering an ACL tear midway through his freshman season and a meniscus tear in the same knee after 9 games in his sophomore season.

Purdue needs the big man from New Mexico to start and finish at left tackle this year. Eric Swingler provided Purdue with an experienced back up at left tackle over the last two years, but he has exhausted his eligibility, leaving the Boilermakers with no experience behind the injury plagued Hermanns. The coaching staff needs to wrap him in bubble wrap, because if he goes down, the cascading effect on the line would be devastating.

Right Tackle or Right Guard - Matt McCann - Sr

Purdue does have some flexibility with McCann able to play either tackle or guard. This should allow the Boilermakers to put their best 5 linemen on the field.

Based on Purdue’s recruiting, I think McCann fits better at right guard than right tackle, only because Purdue should have more options at tackle than guard (I’ll get to that in a moment). I also like McCann better as at guard (where he played as a sophomore) than tackle (where he played as a junior). I feel like McCann is at his best when he can put his hand on the ground, fire off the ball and blow open holes in the running game. He’s a serviceable tackle, but if he has aspirations to continue his football career at the professional level, guard is probably his best shot.

The Hopefully Known

Center - Viktor Beach - So

Beach was penciled in as the starter at center at the start of spring camp. He was Kirk Barron’s understudy last year, and was in prime position to grab the starting spot in the spring until a back injury took him out of commission.

Beach will have every opportunity to win the starting spot in fall camp. In fact, Purdue desperately needs him to win the starting spot in fall camp because I’m not sure any scholarship lineman on the roster has snapped a football in a live game. If Beach can’t go, or his back injury flares up during the season (big men with bad backs make me nervous), Purdue has no depth behind him.

It’s never good when your only option at a crucial position is a guy with 6 reserve appearances in his career who is fighting a bad back. Let’s hope Viktor comes into camp healthy because he needs all the work he can get after transitioning to the center position after mainly playing tackle in high school.

The Unknown

Guard - ????

Purdue has several options at guard, but none of them have any experience.

D.J. Washington - RS So

D.J. was a 3* recruit in the 2017 class. At 6’4, 300, he fits the physical profile more than some of the other guys on Purdue’s roster. When you look at guards, you generally want guys that can anchor and hold the interior pocket and move enough to pull around on running plays. Physically, Washington has that skill set (although another few pounds in the lower body wouldn’t hurt. At 6’4, as incredible as it sounds, the ideal weight at the position is closer to 310-315 than 300.).

What he doesn’t have is experience playing guard. He came to Purdue as a tackle prospect the coaching staff was looking to move inside to guard. Last year as a redshirt freshman, he only appeared in one game. That said, the only way to get experience is to play. I prefer offensive linemen to get in game experience as a reserve and then transition into a starting role, but that’s not a luxury Purdue has with the current players on the roster.

I think D.J. is the front runner for the job if he gets busy in the weight room and at the training table this summer and adds a little more lower body weight and strength to his frame.

Spencer Holstege - Fr

Holstege is a 3* recruit from the 2019 class who graduated early and made it to campus in time for spring football. With the interior line wide open, this was a smart move by Holstege. If he can grab one of the starting spots, he would be in prime position to hold onto it for four years.

His ability to handle the rigors of the position physically is a huge question mark. He was 6’5 and around 290 in spring ball, and that doesn’t scream “starting right guard in the Big10” to me. It’s possible that he has freaky strong legs, but at 6’5, he’s about 20 pounds off the ideal weight for the position. He’s got the summer and fall to get his weight up, but asking a 290 pound freshman to block a 310 pound defensive tackle in the Big10 could be a problem.

Jimmy McKenna - RS Fr

McKenna was a 3* recruit in the 2018 recruiting class. He came into Purdue at 6’5, 260 (according to 247) and is up to 290 pounds. According to my calculations, that’s 30 pounds in a year (although I’m going to guess he was around 270-275 by the time he got to Purdue). He’s another guy that could grab hold of the position early in his career and hold on for the duration.

McKenna runs into the same problem as Holstege. At 6’5, he’s 20 pounds under where I would like to see a guard in the Big10. He’s put in good work to get to 290, but if he’s going to be an interior lineman, he needs another 20 pounds to help anchor against bigger interior players. If he can gain another 10 pounds of good weight before the season, he’ll have a shot, but I’m not sure he can consistently play at 290.

Alex Criddle - SR

Consider this like getting a grad transfer off your own roster. Criddle spent the first 3 years of his career playing defensive tackle, before switching over to the offensive line this spring. He’s listed as a senior on the roster, but he didn’t play at all in 2017, which leads me to believe he has two years of eligibility remaining.

Moving Criddle to offense shows just how concerned the Purdue staff is about fielding two guards. At 6’3, 305 he is built more like a traditional guard, and he played the position in high school. The defensive tackle position at Purdue has a little (not much) more depth, so the switch makes sense.

For Criddle, it’s a matter of dusting off his offensive lineman skills after spending the last three years working on his defensive tackle skills. If he can adjust to his old position and iron out the footwork, he has a legitimate chance to compete for one of the starting spots at guard.

Mark Stickford - RS SO

Stickford was an interesting 3* pick up in the 2017 class. The former wide receiver came into Purdue at 6’5, 245 (according to 247, again, he was probably closer to 260ish when he hit campus). To me, that screams tackle, but everyone is getting a look at guard, and at 6’5, 290, he’s got as good of a shot as anyone. Again, he’s at least 20 pounds too light right now, but so is most everyone else.

The coaching staff seems to like him, and he got some reps in the spring, but he’s another guy that hasn’t stepped onto the field his first two seasons, and the first live snap he plays at guard will be the first live snap he’s played at guard in his life. That doesn’t instill a huge amount of confidence in me, but I’m willing to see what he’s got on the field. I personally think he would be a better option at right tackle, with McCann moving inside to guard.

Will Bramel - RS FR

At a listed 6’6, 290, Bramel, a 3* member of the 2018 class is even farther away from the ideal weight at guard than everyone else. Tall guys can play guard, but at 6’6, you usually see them around 315-320 and not 290. Playing guard is about your center of gravity and ability to anchor against defensive tackles. Physics is against Bramel at the moment.

He’s another guy the coaching staff thinks has great potential, and it’s possible that a rotation at guard would allow players like Bramel to remain fresh and possibly make up for their lack of weight.

Kyle Jornigan - Fr

Jornigan isn’t on campus yet, but at 6’4, 320 he might be the most physically ready (just in terms of size) to step in and play early. Jornigan isn’t a tackle prospect the coaching staff is trying to convert to a guard. He’s a guard coming in and will be a guard leaving. Purdue pulled off a bit a a recruiting coup by signing Jorningan when most “experts” thought he was Kentucky bound. I can only speculate that the ability to get on the field early was a part of that decision.

6’4, 320 looks nice on paper, but Jornigan’s ability to get on the field will be determined by what kind of weight he’s carrying. Is he a guy that should be 290 but is carrying a bunch of useless weight, or is he a legit 300 pounder? If he’s a legit 300 pounder, at a minimum, I think he sees significant action this year, if he doesn’t win the starting job out right.

It’s a huge ask for a freshman to step into fall camp and win a staring job, but Purdue doesn’t have any “sure thing” options on the roster right now anyway. He’s played guard in a live game before, which is more than many of the guys he’s competing against can claim.

How did the guard position become such a problem?

The Purdue coaching staff has been unlucky in terms of interior linemen. In the 2017 class, Jalen Jackson was recruited to be an interior lineman, but he transferred after his redshirt freshman year. In the 2018 class, Charles Allen was recruited to be an interior lineman but retired from football before he made it to West Lafayette, another void on the Boilermaker roster.

Purdue recruits developmental linemen, so when they lose an offensive linemen in a recruiting class, that sets the position back a year. Jackson and Allen should be pushing for playing time this year, but they aren’t around, leaving Purdue with limited options for the interior of the offensive line.

It’s also a function of Purdue’s overall linemen recruiting strategy. The first three Brohm linemen classes have been filled with tall, skinny, athletic tackles that the class hopes to grow into either tackles or guards.

Overall, I like that strategy, but it takes time to grow these guys into guards, and I think most are probably a year away from when they should be expected to contribute on the interior of the line. We’ve got some guys that could transition to guard, but at this point, most are still tackle prospects.

Any other solutions?

The Purdue staff does have some options to try and fill the guard positions.

  1. The first option is to slide McCann back to guard and let the guys who are more suited to playing tackle get a shot at the right tackle position. I like this option the best.
  2. The next option is to suck it up, play some undersized guys at the position and hope for the best. I’m not a huge fan of this position when Sindelar has a chronically injured knee.
  3. Hit the grad transfer market. I was hoping that at this point, Purdue would be done with the offensive line band aids, but I could see Brohm using the grad transfer market one more time to give his young guys a chance to grow. There are several options still available including a guy like Zeke Martin from Illinois who has starting experience in the Big10. You’ve got to think Brohm will at least make a few phone calls.