WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- I labeled Purdue my sleeper team in the Big Ten two months ago, and my opinion certainly hasn't changed after spending a day with Danny Hope and his players. The expectations certainly are higher for the Boilermakers after back-to-back bowl-less seasons, and Hope has the team to meet them.
Purdue not only returns a decent amount of talent, but the Boilers should be deeper in 2010, despite the loss of 20 seniors. As I waited for an interview in the Mollenkopf Center today, I checked out the Boilers' 2010 schedule displayed above the weight room. It's extremely manageable, and anything less than seven wins should be a disappointment.
Before I make the drive to Indianapolis for the Big Ten men's basketball tournament, here are some nuggets and tidbits from today:
Check in Monday for more on quarterback Robert Marve, but Hope and offensive coordinator Gary Nord both had some high praise for the Miami transfer. According to the coaches, Marve has matured a lot during the last 10 months. He has healed very well from a torn ACL and should be full-go for the spring. His teammates have seen him take charge in offseason workouts, and running back Ralph Bolden was amazed at how quickly Marve picked up the offense. That said, the starting job isn't guaranteed. "I expect Caleb [TerBush] to give Robert Marve a run for his money and make it a very interesting battle this spring," Nord said.
Hope sounds very optimistic that former quarterback Justin Siller can return to the team this summer. Siller was dismissed from school in April for violating academic policy, and prohibited from returning until after the 2009-10 academic year. Siller, who started three games at quarterback in 2008, is attending classes at Ivy Tech Community College in Lafayette and could re-apply for admission after the spring semester. Nord said Siller would be too far behind the other quarterbacks to compete for time there, but he could fill in at other spots (wide receiver, running back). "There's lots of places he can play," Hope said. "He's one of the best athletes in our program, and he can be a difference-maker for us in a lot of ways."
The Boilers certainly have more depth in some areas than they did a year ago, namely at wide receiver/ tight end, where Keith Smith leads a talented group. Last year, Smith was the only somewhat proven pass-catching option. But Hope wants to identify top reserves this spring on both sides of the ball. "That next guy," Hope explained. "That third offensive tackle to go in the game, he's a really important person to us. Who the third guard is, he's a really important person to us. Who that third defensive tackle is, that's a really important player on our football team, the third defensive end."
Purdue loses all four starters in the secondary and will feature plenty of competition there this spring. But the one player Hope and defensive coordinator Donn Landholm are counting on is junior safety Albert Evans. Evans appeared in every game last fall, recording 30 tackles and two pass breakups as the Boilers' fifth defensive back. He will miss the spring with an injury, but you can pencil Evans into the starting lineup this fall.
As far as injuries go, Smith will miss the spring as he recovers from a wrist injury, but he expects to be fine for preseason camp. Star defensive end Ryan Kerrigan expects to be 100 percent after undergoing foot surgery shortly after the 2009 season.
Hope revamped the speed training program in the offseason to work more on form running, change of direction and flexibility. Rather than just standard running to maintain conditioning, Purdue has worked on football-specific speed drills to, in essence, practice for spring practice. "We had some specific goals," Hope said. "One is the transfer of training, from a technical standpoint, being in a good football position as you change direction and go through drills. To be able to finish, so when a drill is over, as you accelerate through a point, you're disciplined enough to do that every down and every snap. ... We've had a plan to prepare our football team so we can cash in on spring opportunities."