Position superlatives: Purdue


Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

There's no shortage of questions for Danny Hope as he oversees his first set of spring drills as Purdue's head coach. The Boilermakers bring in new coordinators (Gary Nord, Donn Landholm) on both sides of the ball and lose many of their starting skill players on offense.

There's a little more stability on defense, despite the loss of leading tackler Anthony Heygood. Here's the good news and bad news for Purdue entering the spring.

Strongest position -- Defensive back

Key returnees: Senior cornerback Torri Williams, senior cornerback/safety Brandon King, senior safety Dwight Mclean, senior cornerback David Pender

Key departures: Safety Frank Duong (41 tackles, 1 fumble recovery)

The skinny: Purdue returns all four starters from a group that led the Big Ten in pass defense (183.2 ypg) last season. Williams, who received a sixth year of eligibility, can be a playmaker at either cornerback or safety when healthy, and King proved to be valuable at the opposite corner spot. The Boilers likely will lean on their defense early in the season, so expect the back four to play a vital role. The offensive line also could be a strength.

Weakest position -- Wide receiver

Key returnees: Junior Keith Smith, senior Aaron Valentin

Key departures: Greg Orton (69 receptions, 720 yards, 5 touchdowns), Desmond Tardy (67 receptions, 876 yards, 5 touchdowns), running back Kory Sheets (37 receptions, 253 yards, 1 touchdown), Brandon Whittington (25 receptions, 182 yards, 1 touchdown).

The skinny: It seems weird to type this, given Purdue's recent history of producing standout wide receivers, but there aren't many proven targets left for quarterbacks Joey Elliott and Justin Siller. There's a reason why Hope signed four wide receivers and a tight end in his first recruiting class. Purdue needs a playmaker to emerge at wideout, and perhaps more importantly, it needs to upgrade at tight end, a spot that really fell off last year after superstar Dustin Keller departed in 2007. Other potential trouble spots include quarterback, running back and linebacker.