It’s camp time, and everyone is excited to check out all the new toys Purdue signed in the 2019 recruiting class.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited as well. Purdue’s skill positions have the chance to be elite, but that wont’ matter if the big boys on both lines can’t get the job done.
I have immense faith in Jeff Brohm as a play caller and game planner. If given a functional offensive line and quarterback, Brohm could put together a competent offense with the H&R staff at the skill positions. That’s not to discount what our skill guys can do, because they take Purdue’s offense from “competent” to “elite”.
The limiting factor for the 2019 Purdue offense will be the offensive line. They don’t have to be great, just good enough to give Brohm the chance to run his offense. I’ll start with the nominal starters and talk about the “depth” tomorrow.
To start camp, Purdue marched out this 1st team offensive line:
LT: Grant Hermanns - RS Jr - 15 game starter
LG: Jimmy McKenna - RS Fr
C: Viktor Beach - RS So - Appeared in 6 games as a reserve
RG: Matt McCann - RS Sr - 36 game starter
RT: Will Bramel - RS Fr
Hermanns, in theory, is a two year starter at left tackle. Unfortunately, those two years have been marred by knee injuries. He tore his MCL in his third start as a redshirt freshman, and then continued to play until he tore multiple knee ligaments (including his ACL) in his 6th game.
Last year he held up for 8 games before a knee injury (meniscus this time) ended his season prematurely for the the second year in a row. If you’re keeping score, that’s two seasons as a starter and two season ending knee injuries. That doesn’t inspire confidence.
I’ve been a Hermanns fan since Hazell and company went down to New Mexico and brought the lightly recruited athlete to Purdue. When healthy, he’s a plus athlete at left tackle with an excellent sense of balance and leverage (probably because he was a state champion wrestler in New Mexico). The problem is that he hasn’t been able to stay healthy. That has to change this year for Purdue to have any chance to reach their full potential. In fact, as strange as it might sound, Hermanns is probably the 3rd most important player on the offense behind Rondale and Eli.
Last year Purdue had the luxury of having Eric Swingler on the roster. Swingler wasn’t great at anything, but he worked hard and could competently play left tackle. Swingler is gone and Hermanns is the only player on the roster to take a snap at left tackle. He must stay healthy because things could fall apart without him anchoring the left side of the line and protecting Eli’s blindside.
Matt is another hold over from the Hazell era. He was the Purdue’s 2nd highest rated recruit in the 2016 (slightly behind Eli) and has been a rock for the Boilermakers on the right side of the line. His ability to either player right tackle or right guard is a godsend for Purdue this year. McCann’s versatility should allow Purdue to put their 5 best offensive linemen on the field for any given game.
To start camp, McCann is at right guard. I think this is his best position, and if he has professional aspirations, right guard will be his position. This helps Purdue because missed on interior offensive linemen in Brohm’s first 2 classes and asking a true freshman to start at guard in the Big10 is death (unless we’re talking about a truly elite 4/5* player).
While McCann has battled shoulder injuries most of his Purdue career, he’s managed to stay on the field. It looked like his iron man streak was coming to an end after what looked like a nasty knee injury against Auburn, but his knee must be hyper mobile, because it bent in a weird way but nothing popped.
Much like Hermanns, there is no proven depth behind McCann at guard (or tackle for that matter). Now that I think about it, he’s probably tied with Hermanns as the 3rd most important player on the offense. Purdue doesn’t have a replacement for him on the roster.
My biggest grip with Purdue’s coaching staff has been the inability to develop depth on the offensive line. There are only two players on the roster who have logged meaningful snaps for the Boilermakers on the offensive line. That’s incredible, and honestly, poor roster management.
Thus far, Purdue has cobbled together a competent line with Hazell holdovers and grad transfers. Now they are down to two Hazell holdovers and decided not to pursue a JuCo or grad transfer for the 2019 season. That’s a huge gamble, and one that could torpedo what could be an 8 win season. If the gamble pays off, however, Purdue will be set at offensive line for the next few seasons with underclassmen dominating the depth chart.
As a Recruit (247):
OT - 3*(86) - 6’5, 260 - Avon, Ohio
2018 (per official roster):
Redshirt - 6’5, 275
Purdue’s first two recruiting classes under Brohm were mostly populated by tall, lean, athletic offensive tackle prospects that could be molded by the staff. McKenna has obviously filled out during his redshirt season at Purdue, and will have the first shot in camp to grab a starting spot. In theory he should be able to pull and move well in space, but he’ll have to show the ability to hold up against the bull rush and seal well in combo blocks.
As a Recruit:
OT - 3*(81) - 6’5, 295 - Fort Myers, Florida
Redshirt - 6’4, 305
Reserve (appeared in 6 games) - 6’4, 305
Beach came to Purdue as a tackle prospect but was moved to center as Kirk Barron’s understudy. Beach has limited game experience, but at least he has strapped on his helmet and seen live action. Beach needed to take control of the center position in the spring, but was held out of practice with a debilitating back injury. If his back is right, Beach should be the starting center because Purdue doesn’t have any other options at the position.
As a Recruit:
OT - 3*(85) 6’6, 260 - Danville, Kentucky
Redshirt - 6’6, 280
Bramel is another tall, skinny, athletic lineman from the 2017 who is getting a shot to play as a redshirt freshman. He’s filled done a nice job of filling out his long frame, but could probably use another 10 pounds to be a prototypical right tackle. I had 2020 circled as the year for Bramel to make his move up the depth chart, but he’s a year ahead of my schedule. Much like McKenna, Bramel will have to show that he can hold up against the bull rush and pick up blitzes on the right side of the line. Having McCann next to him should help, but this is a big ask for a redshirt freshman.