- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
As Purdue coach Joe Tiller made his final appearance at Big Ten media days last week, many of the tributes from his colleagues focused on the revolutionary spread offense he brought to the Big Ten back in 1997. Tiller's system produced stars like Drew Brees and caught on around the league. Aside from two seasons, Purdue's offense has ranked among the top 25 nationally.
So how will the Boilermakers' offense look in Tiller's final go-round?
Purdue has a senior quarterback (Curtis Painter) being pumped for the Heisman Trophy and two veteran running backs (Kory Sheets and Jaycen Taylor). But there are questions at wide receiver/tight end after the departures of Dorien Bryant and Dustin Keller. Injuries ravaged the offensive line during the offseason, leaving coach-in-waiting Danny Hope a tough task as he oversees the group in training camp.
Ed Zaunbrecher enters his first season as offensive coordinator after sharing coordinator duties the last two seasons. He previously served on Ron Zook's staff at both Florida and Illinois, and also worked as Marshall's offensive coordinator. The list of quarterbacks he's coached includes Rex Grossman, Chad Pennington and Byron Leftwich. I caught up with Zaunbrecher earlier this week and discussed Purdue's upcoming season.
What's your sense of Coach Tiller's mind-set going into his last year? Is he the same guy as always, or has he gotten more philosophical?
Ed Zaunbrecher: I'm sure it's been on his mind. He enjoys coaching and he's going to continue to do that all the way till the last game that he coaches. We hope he does enjoy it all the way. But as far as coaches and players, we're going to be concentrating on the games, just like we always do. It'll be something that he'll be involved in much more than we will right until the end, when it's actually time. The last banquet will probably be a pretty profound moment for everybody involved.
Looking at your offense for this year, it obviously starts with Curtis. What are your expectations for him?
EZ: I expect him to continue to improve. He works hard and is a guy that keeps trying to work on the details of things to make him better at his position and to help the team get better. It's not just him being a better quarterback. It's being a better football player and leader and everything else. Being the guy with the most experience of anybody on the entire team, he's a guy people will look to to be a productive player for us and to continue that improvement. If he improves like he did last year, it'll be a noticeable impact on the team.
He's going to have some different wide receivers this year. How much of an adjustment will that be for him, or is your system one where you can always plug in new guys and expect good results?
EZ: The guys who have been here, even though they might not have played as much, should have a pretty good idea of what's going on. The new guys coming in, who have a chance to play, those are the ones who have to catch up. Obviously, we'll make a big push to do that so they can use the abilities that they have and see if they're good enough. You don't play with just two or three guys in this system. You have to have a lot of guys ready to go, so there's opportunities for people to come in. The style of play lets a guy come in and do things, as long as he understands the basic concepts. We'll be moving along pretty fast, our pace of installing and stuff like that, so they'll have to work hard to keep up, but we'll have time to teach 'em.
Who are some of those young guys you're hoping can catch on quickly?
EZ: We've got a couple of new receivers. Aaron Valentin was here in the spring. He made some good plays, but his learning curve was still taking place. Obviously, being here should make a big difference in the fall because guys usually make their most improvement over their first summer. And then Arsenio Curry is a new guy coming in, and we're looking forward to him contributing, a big receiver. But we've got some guys that have been here. They may not be household names. Greg Orton's a returning guy with the most experience. Kyle Adams at tight end has played a lot. Desmond Tardy, Brandon Whittington both were in the rotation last year and would get in games and play. Joe Whitest is another guy that's gotten a lot of work in practice especially. He got better in the spring and we're looking forward to him taking the next step. So we have some guys who know what to do, and some other guys can catch up.
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