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Wednesday, February 22, 2012
Big shoes to fill: Purdue

By Adam Rittenberg

As we count down the days before spring practice, we're taking a look at how each Big Ten team will replace key players on their depth charts. We're picking two departed players who left big shoes to fill and identifying who might be ready to do that filling.

Up next, Purdue.

BIG SHOES TO FILL: Dennis Kelly, LT

Dennis Kelly
Dennis Kelly started 37 consecutive games at left tackle for the Boilermakers.
Why: Purdue returns most of its skill players on offense but must fill gaps along the line, none bigger than at left tackle. Kelly started every game the past three seasons, a streak of 37 consecutive games protecting the quarterback's blind side. He also served as a co-captain last fall. Kelly is a big body at 6-foot-8 and 306 pounds, and his backup in 2011 was Trevor Foy, the team's starting right tackle. Purdue doesn't have many proven players at tackle entering spring practice. Although the Boilers return four quarterbacks with starting experience, they need someone to protect them.

Replacement candidates: Trevor Foy (6-7, 287, Jr.); Justin Kitchens (6-4, 275, Jr.); Jack De Boef (6-7, 284, So.)

The skinny: Kitchens moved from defensive line to offensive tackle last spring and started the first four games before moving behind Foy on the depth chart. Purdue could move Foy to the left side and move Kitchens into a starting role or given Kitchens a shot a succeeding Kelly. De Boef is a big body but lacks experience. It should be a very interesting spring along the offensive line.

BIG SHOES TO FILL: Joe Holland, LB

Why: No player has started more games for Purdue in the past four seasons than Holland, who started 48 of 49 games in his career. He led the team in tackles with 94 in 2011 and finished in the top three in tackles all four seasons. A co-captain last season, Holland finished second on the squad in both tackles for loss (10.5) and passes defended (9), recording an interception and 1.5 sacks. Although linebacker hasn't been the strongest position at Purdue, Holland's durability, leadership and production will be missed in 2012.

Replacement candidates: Nnamdi Ezenwa (6-2, 225, Sr.); Joe Gilliam (6-1, 211, So.); Mike Lee (6-2, 220, So.)

The skinny: Purdue should be fine at the other two linebacker spots with Dwayne Beckford and Will Lucas, but Holland leaves a void because he was always on the field. Gilliam appeared in 11 games last season and recorded seven tackles, while Ezenwa, listed as Holland's backup on Purdue's depth chart, had six tackles in five games. The Boilers didn't have a ton of linebackers see the field in 2011, so it'll be important for Lee and other younger 'backers to get up to speed this spring.