It’s almost time for Purdue Football to come back. Kickoff is a little over two weeks away and there is more excitement for this season than we have seen in many, many years. The staff of Hammer & Rails is ready to bring you another season of coverage, so let’s formally kick things off with a roundtable of what we’re looking for this season. Virtually the entire staff chimed in, except for Juan, who is currently on vacation in Australia since he is now a jet-setting doctor. His answers are made up.
1. What are you more excited to see: the young talent at receiver or the young talent on the defensive line like George Karlaftis?
Andrew (Jumboheroes): I’m most interested to see the defensive line. This area has been sorely missing a breakout end for a long time and for the Den of Defensive Ends that’s a problem. I’m always leery of relying on a freshman to make an impact on the defensive line but perhaps Karlaftis will be different. I’m also interested in another freshman Steven Faucheux. Mostly because his name is fun to say but also because we need help all over that defensive line and he could be another freshman that Purdue has to rely on.
Drew (The Legend of Shawn McCarthy): The young talent at receiver or the young talent on the defensive line like George Karlaftis? Defensive line but the young WRs may have the bigger impact overall.
Kyle: I am excited to see George dominate, but to me, that is almost expected after seeing him in person and hearing the coaches rave about him. I want to see how the receivers will produce. Will all 4 highly touted freshman receivers play? Who knows, there is a very real chance that they might and play a lot. Remember, we generally have 3 wrs on the field, so expect a minimum of 6 to see a lot of PT, 4 of them could be freshmen.
Chris (All My Sports Teams Suck): Receiver, are you kidding me? Have we forgotten this from last year already? No disrespect to Karlaftis and crew, who are exciting in their own right, but when that play happened, I experienced emotions I had never felt while watching Purdue football. When I lived in Germany they called it “vom wilden Affen gebissen sein”... which literally translates to “Be bitten by the wild monkey” and that’s about the closest I can come up with in English to describe that amazing feeling.
T-Mill: Give me Karlaftis. I am in the minority in thinking the defensive line makes a huge leap forward this year led by Karlaftis. I think he has the same impact defensively that Rondale Moore had offensively last year. By all reports the kid is not only extremely talented, but he is focused and disciplined worker. I think he becomes a Destroyer of Worlds in a hurry.
Dr. Juan: (sips wine in New South Wales)
2. What do you think Purdue’s biggest strength is?
Andrew (Jumboheroes): Jeff Brohm and Nick Holt. These two could find a way to make a competent football team out of popsicle sticks and crazy glue.
Drew (The Legend of Shawn McCarthy): Quarterback and skill positions.
Kyle: To me, it is linebacker right now. It is crazy to think about, but with Senior Markus Bailey leading the way followed by 5th year, Ben Holt, Cornel Jones, Derrick Barnes and Jaylan Alexander, this is a pretty experienced group. They took their bumps as youngsters, but 2 or 3 of these guys may play on Sundays some day.
Chris (All My Sports Teams Suck): I’m going to pivot away from a position and say it’s our coaching. Our team has played much more disciplined than historic (Hope & Hazell) teams, especially after the gaffes in the first three games of last season. Despite the promises that Brohm made of 50 trick plays last season, he largely just operated an offense that was dynamic and fairly traditional. I think going forward, as the team gets better, you’ll see more unique plays get folded in, and fully expect the Boilermakers to be an offensive powerhouse this year.
T-Mill: I think we’re going to have more depth this year than in past seasons. Last year in the bowl game we were down three starters on defense and got absolutely torched. Sure, if those guys play we still probably lose, but the drop-off between our No. 1s and No. 2s on defense was significant. This year we have a major talent influx at nearly every position. They are young, but the talent upgrade of the freshmen (both redshirt and true) will be huge.
Dr. Juan: It’s my Purdue degree that led me to Sydney Harbor.
3. What is the biggest weakness and how does Brohm fix it?
Andrew (Jumboheroes): Offensive line. The only way to fix it is to recruit. Of course that’s a long term solution and Purdue needs help now. They’ve tried in the previous use to use band-aids via the graduate transfer market but that can only hold things together one year at a time and is no way to build continuity and consistency along such an important position. Purdue’s got to get creative on offense and figure out how to keep defenses off balance rather than putting Sindelar back there like a sitting duck. If anyone can come up with a plan for that it’s Jeff Brohm.
Drew (The Legend of Shawn McCarthy): Both lines and build a time machine and either go back and recruit more lineman or go forward a few years when the current linemen are ready.
Kyle: Offensive Line. Outside of McCann and Hermanns there are question marks. At LG we are converting a DT to play it - that isn’t good. Keep recruiting the position hard and hopefully Coach Williams will keep developing these young guys.. We will need it.
Chris (All My Sports Teams Suck): It’s a tie for me between depth and youth. I think especially early in the season we’ll have to see a lot more rotation in the players on both sides of the ball to mitigate some risk in fatigue (especially if it’s hot,
given the notorious Lafayette heat and the complete lack of air conditioning within 100 miles of Purdue Mr Harbaugh give me my computer back) and injury.
T-Mill: Offensive line. I think we’re putting a decent one together with Criddle being a pleasant surprise at left guard, but depth is a concern. We’re taking a huge risk this year. The line is young and the depth is inexperienced. If it comes together, however, we’re set for a few years with only McCann leaving as a senior starter.
Dr. Juan: (explores reef)
4. Who ends up leading the team in rushing?
Andrew (Jumboheroes): This is a tough one because seemingly every running back on the team right now has some sort of injury issue or is coming back from an injury. I’ve gotta go with Tario Fuller. Prior to the ankle injury back in 2017 it looked like Fuller could be THE guy at running back. Last year it was slow going for him as it’s possible the ankle was still giving him problems. As a runner who has suffered numerous ankle injuries I can tell you they don’t heal easy and I don’t even have to make hard cuts on a grass field. Let’s hope given the time and the great care he’s received he can step into his long awaited role as lead back.
Drew (The Legend of Shawn McCarthy): Tario Fuller
Kyle: Tario Fuller. I think he will have a healthy and successful year.
Chris (All My Sports Teams Suck): This stuff isn’t my forte. I’ll just say Worship and look at you guys for affirmation. (Says the analytics guy).
T-Mill: Zander Horvath, making us relish the days of Mike Alstott flattening dudes from out of the backfield.
Dr. Juan: (This is where I ran out of Juan’s Australia posts, so you’re getting some of his other adventures since again, he is the jet-setting doctor now)
5. Who do you think is the breakout freshman?
Andrew (Jumboheroes): Has to be Karlaftis right?
Drew (The Legend of Shawn McCarthy): Milton Wright
Kyle: I refuse to say Big George, because that is the easy answer. Give me Jalen Graham, the hard hitting, big bodied safety will surprise a lot of people. I have him penciled in as the starting strong safety.
Chris (All My Sports Teams Suck): Again, this stuff isn’t my forte so I’ll go with Steven Faucheaux which is good because then we can make about a million puns with his last name that he’s probably already heard a thousand times in his life.
T-Mill: I’ll go with King Doerue. I have heard a lot of good about him in camp so far and I think he becomes a strong contributor out of the backfield. Also, bonus points for Alfred Armour as a redshirt freshman, who has been a workout warrior and is the top fullback now.
6. What older player do you think steps up big in a larger role?
Andrew (Jumboheroes): Not the sexiest choice but I’m going with Brycen Hopkins. As the true number one tight end this year and the trouble on the offensive line Hopkins could get a lot of work as the safety valve of the offense. He’s a much better option as a pass catcher than a blocker but that’s going to come in real handy this year. He’s going to have all the snaps he wants this season. Purdue has good young tight ends behind him but there’s a reason he’s number one.
Drew (The Legend of Shawn McCarthy): Alex Criddle
Kyle: Alex Criddle. As mentioned above, he is moving from DT to offensive line. He has been starting in the camp practices, at the end of the year, stats may not show it, but if he protects the QB well and we run the ball well, he will be a big reason why.
Chris (All My Sports Teams Suck): ”Steps up” might be an overstatement here but I think Lorenzo Neal, with the other freshmen around him to take some eyes off him, could have Kerrigan-like efficiency. He’s already been so successful, so it might not be as much of a step up as some others may make, but I think it’ll be impactful.
T-Mill: Definitely Criddle. By all accounts he has taken very well to the position change from defensive tackle to offensive guard after three years on the DL. Even better: He didn’t play at all last season, so that can be his redshirt year and he can start next year as well if it works out. If a guy can go from afterthought at one position to solid starter at another that is a breakout.
Dr. Juan: Aged Cheese
7. Will fans be satisfied with another 6-6 season, even though it seems possible because of how young Purdue is?
Andrew (Jumboheroes): I’m gonna give you my best (waiting for the Bar results so not officially a) lawyer answer and say it depends. If Purdue goes out there and loses close games to good teams then yes I think fans can be satisfied. I think the majority of fans understand the depths to which the program fell under Hazell. We weren’t just in the basement, we were building a second basement beneath the first. However, if Purdue goes out and just looks poor all season and scrapes up 6 wins by beating IU and Illinois I think people will be upset. By and large though I expect good feelings in West Lafayette.
Drew (The Legend of Shawn McCarthy): Even though it seems possible because of how young Purdue is? Brohm has at least 2 more years to really get it cranked up. The fans will be fine for a little while.
Kyle: Probably not, we are talented but so young. My expectation is 6 to 8 wins and a bowl victory.
Chris (All My Sports Teams Suck): Irrelevant, this team isn’t going 6-6 unless there’s a huge injury bug. We were two penalties and 8 points away from going 7-0 to start last season, I will remind all the haters. With a slightly better team I think there’s a real chance we start off 4-0 and the Penn State game is getting major media attention. If we start 4-0 or even 3-1, we will win at least 7.
T-Mill: I think as long as they know we’re young (something I have tried to push) and the freshmen show promise it will be okay. Remember: 45 of the 78 scholarship players on the roster are freshmen in some capacity. That is a lot of youth. The better we do with them this year the more excited I am for next year, especially with another strong recruiting class coming.
Dr. Juan: Anything before Jeff Brohm is a mistake.
8. What is your prediction on the final record and why?
Andrew (Jumboheroes): Caveat here that this is before I’ve really started to take an in depth look at the schedule and what the team could do. I reserve the right to change my mind as the season progresses. There are just so many questions marks on this team starting with both sides of the line. If those two pieces could get shored up I really think Purdue could have something cooking. Also, does Sindelar continue to improve and does he take care of the football. That’s always been his bugaboo and if he can’t get that taken care of I guess Purdue hands the ball over to Plummer and see what he can do. I’m gonna go 7-5 but you could easily convince me that 6-6 and 8-4 are possible if things go wrong or right. It’s going to be an interesting season regardless and it’s just exciting to me that football has officially returned to West Lafayette.
Drew (The Legend of Shawn McCarthy): 7-6. Purdue starts hot and fades down the stretch as injuries take a toll on a thin roster.
Kyle: 7-5, then with a bowl victory, 8-5 - which is successful for this young team. I believe we will take some unexpected bumps mid season as young players will hit a bit of a freshman wall and the long college season will take a toll on their bodies and minor injuries will pop up.
Chris (All My Sports Teams Suck): I’m going all in. We start 4-0. Lose at Happy Valley, win the next 3 (7-1!), lose at home against Nebraska, beat Northwestern, lose at Wisconsin, beat IU. That’s right. 9-3. I assume we probably don’t get the West title (Huskers? Wisconsin?). We could start off 3-1 but still that’s 8-4. The schedule is very much in our favor and this is the year to capitalize on it, in my book.
T-Mill: I think we win seven games. Our schedule is the 3.6 roentgen of schedules: not great, but not terrible. Every home game is winnable and we can definitely get 2-3 on the road. I’ll set the regular season at 7-5, but we see enough that 2020 and 2021 expectations will be huge.