Lessons learned from spring football: Purdue Boilermakers

Spring camp is over and the annual scrimmages are in the books. So, as part of an on-going series this week, we're taking a look back at what we've learned so far this offseason.

Up next: the Purdue Boilermakers.

1. David Blough still needs to prove he deserves the starting QB job. He started eight games last season. But, if you've been paying attention at Purdue the last few years, the fact he hasn't yet been named the starter is not a surprise.

In each of the last three seasons, Darrell Hazell has waited until August to name a starter. But, each season, he's changed the quarterback by October. Hazell would like to avoid a repeat of that, but the fact is that Blough just hasn't shown enough to earn the job again. In the spring game, for example, he tossed an interception in the end zone while redshirt freshman quarterback Elijah Sindelar didn't once turn the ball over.

With a new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, there are obvious adjustments to be made. And Blough has taken pride in his improved decision-making since November. But he needs to become more consistent before he once again takes the reins to this offense. Sindelar is right behind him.

2. The running game will fall on the shoulders of sophomore RB Markell Jones. Jones boasted an impressive freshman campaign last season, when he rushed for 875 yards and 10 TDs. So he was once again in line to be the top back -- but he's more valuable than ever now.

Fellow running back D.J. Knox, who had 108 carries last season, tore his ACL in the spring game and will miss the entire 2016 season. Outside of Jones and Knox, no other Purdue running back had more than five carries last season. So Jones' workload is expected to increase by quite a bit. Based on what Hazell said, he might see twice as many carries as 2015.

"He's going to have to be a tough guy," Hazell told the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel. "He'll have to carry it 30-plus times a game for us to win. I'm confident that if he continues the growth that he's had, we're going to be a good team because of him."

Jones is an underrated back, who has a chance to surprise this season. He's looking forward to the added touches; Purdue is just hoping for some added production.

3. LB Ja'Whaun Bentley could be a star -- but the defense still has a long way to go. Bentley is about seven months removed from an ACL tear, but he still participated in the spring -- he was held out of some live drills -- and actually played more of a role than anticipated. He was a freshman All-American in 2014 and a team captain last year, so he's a big boon to this defense.

The corps of linebackers are in pretty good shape, with both Danny Ezechukwu and Jimmy Herman returning. But there are questions marks everywhere else: Both standout corners are gone, defensive tackle Ra'Zhan Howard is currently suspended and Ross Els is implementing a new scheme as the new defensive coordinator. (Els is a former Nebraska assistant who coached his son's high school team last fall.) Even if every starter returned, there'd be plenty of questions.

Last season, the Boilermakers ranked No. 108 nationally in rush defense (214.9 yards allowed per game) and No. 111 in scoring defense (36.5 points allowed per game). And with a new system this spring, there have been some growing pains. Els told BTN.com about as much last month. There's a lot of work left for this group not to finish 2016 among the bottom of the Big Ten.