Big Ten: Curtis Painter
You don't need to be a Purdue historian to know that the program's spikes in success are tied to its star quarterbacks, from Bob Griese in the mid 1960s to Mark Herrmann in the late 1970s to Drew Brees from 1997-2000. Even average Boilers teams had productive signal-callers, from Bob DeMoss to Len Dawson to Gary Danielson to Jim Everett to Kyle Orton to Curtis Painter.
Purdue lacks the luxuries or location to consistently build great teams with defense or the run game. Although the program bills itself as the "Den of Defensive Ends," and for good reason, it's more significant nickname is "Cradle of Quarterbacks." Fifteen Purdue quarterbacks have moved on to the NFL, accounting for more starts and throwing for more yards than those from any other FBS program.
"The entire quarterback room has a big responsibility in turning this whole culture around," quarterback Danny Etling told ESPN.com. "Any time you've ever had success at Purdue, you've always had a very good quarterback at the helm. That shows with our Rose Bowls. It was Bob Griese and Drew Brees. So in order for Purdue to be successful, the quarterback position has to be playing very, very strong."
Growing up in Terre Haute, Ind., Etling needed no education on Purdue's quarterback tradition. Boiler quarterbacks dominate the passing section of the Big Ten record book, occupying the top four spots in single-season yards and four of the top eight spots in career yards.
But last season, Purdue finished last in the Big Ten and 119th nationally in both scoring (14.9 points per game) and total offense (282.9 yards per game). It ranked 106th in team passing efficiency.
"At Purdue, you're the focal point of why a team is going to be successful or not," Etling said. "I'd rather have that on my shoulders. I'd rather have to be the big man on campus having to take control of a team and try to lead them, throwing it 30, 40 times a game instead of handing the ball off a bunch. That's what Purdue has a history of doing."
Purdue's history is what lured Etling, rated by ESPN RecruitingNation as the country's No. 12 quarterback in the 2013 class. Austin Appleby grew up in North Canton, Ohio, as a big Ohio State fan, but he also knew about Purdue's reputation for producing NFL quarterbacks.
The same draw also helped Purdue land 2014 recruit David Blough, who, like Brees, hails from Texas. Blough, who stood out at the prestigious Elite 11 finals last summer, has already enrolled at Purdue, like Etling did last winter.
"We have three Elite 11 quarterbacks right now, three pretty highly touted guys and it's not by mistake," Appleby said. "There's such a tradition here for good quarterbacks. Danny, David and myself, we're all genuinely good people. We love to work and we love to push each other. You won't find a time where you walk into the film room and one of us isn't in there. That's the thing that has separated us, aside from the talent."
Appleby and Etling both competed alongside Rob Henry for the starting job last spring and summer. Henry got the nod for the opener, but after a 1-3 start, Purdue turned to Etling, who started the final seven games.
Although Etling showed some promise, especially in his final three games when he competed 66.7 percent of his passes for 871 yards with six touchdowns and two interceptions, he'll need to beat out both Appleby and Blough when spring ball kicks off March 6.
"We didn't have the season we wanted, and I don't think any job is safe," Appleby said. "That’s one of the best things that could possibly happen to this team. There needs to be a sense of urgency in the program that we are going to turn things around and we're going in a certain direction. You either need to get with us or you need to get outta here. That's been explained to us from the top.
"It's enough talk. We've got to be men of action."
The quarterbacks are taking charge this winter, from meeting with receivers and linemen to review routes and protections to organizing 7-on-7 sessions in the indoor facility. They've also tried to set examples with some of the off-field policies coach Darrell Hazell implemented after his arrival, such as sitting in the front row of classes and not wearing hats indoors.
"The quarterback has to set the tone," Etling said. "The tone is set by the strong, and we're a very, very strong quarterback room, I believe, one of the better ones in the country."
Etling wasn't pleased with his play last fall and has set several goals for his sophomore season: 3,000 passing yards, a completion percentage well above 60 and, the most ambitious, 30 completions per game -- "whether we call 35 passes or 50," he said. He has worked on his timing with receivers and wants to make quicker decisions, whether it's on downfield shots or checkdowns.
Although Appleby appeared in just two games last season, completing five of six attempts, his approach to be the starter hasn't changed. He thinks he knows the offense as well as the coaches.
"There's always an urgency," Appleby said. "I'm looking to get this program back on the right track, and it's going to go through the quarterback position."
Thanks to the fine folks at ESPN Stats & Info for several of these:
- Wisconsin's rushing attack has 50 rushes of 10 or more yards in 2010, which is tied for 11th most in the FBS. Iowa's stingy defense very rarely gives up the big running play, but the Hawkeyes will have their hands full with John Clay and James White. Iowa is tied for second nationally in fewest rushes of 10 or more yards allowed with 11. Boston College leads the nation with 10.
- Penn State's Joe Paterno will coach in his 65th stadium on Saturday when the Nittany Lions visit TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. JoePa has coached 276 games in Beaver Stadium, and TCF Bank Stadium will become the 64th away or neutral site venue the Hall of Famer has coached in 257 contests.
- Iowa's Ricky Stanzi and Wisconsin's Scott Tolzien both have been great inside the opponent's 20-yard line this season. Tolzien has thrown all seven of his touchdown passes from inside the red zone in 2010. Wisconsin is one of only two FBS teams that has not thrown a touchdown pass from outside of the red zone. Stanzi leads the nation in red zone pass efficiency (297.4 rating), while Tolzien is second (286 rating) and Indiana's Ben Chappell is third (264.4 rating).
- Michigan State has recorded three interceptions in each of the past two games. The Spartans had six interceptions in 13 games last season. They are tied for third in FBS with 12 interceptions. They also rank in the top 10 nationally in both takeaways (seventh with 18) and turnover margin (9th).
- Danny Hope has done his best coaching work in league play. In his seven seasons as a head coach, Hope has posted a 38-12 record (a .760 winning percentage) in 50 conference games at Eastern Kentucky and Purdue.
- Illinois has faced the second-toughest schedule in the nation thus far according to the official NCAA schedule strength rankings. Illinois' opponents have a combined record of 26-7 this season vs. Division I opponents (not counting their game vs. Illinois). Only Iowa State has played a tougher slate so far (29-7 combined opponent record).
- Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor needs 90 passing yards to become the ninth quarterback in team history to pass for 5,000 career yards. With 180 yards passing, he would move into eighth place on the school's all-time list.
- Indiana's Bill Lynch and Iowa's Kirk Ferentz both are nearing the 100-victory mark for their coaching careers. Lynch improved to 99-92-3 with a win over Arkansas State last weekend and will look for his 100th victory on Saturday at Illinois. Lynch has compiled his 99 victories in 17-plus seasons at Butler, Ball State, DePauw and Indiana. Ferentz is now 98-77 in his career after a victory at Michigan last weekend. He's in his 15th season as a head coach after a previous stint at Maine.
- Minnesota's Adam Weber could become just the fifth quarterback in Big Ten history to pass for more than 10,000 career yards this week. He needs just 100 yards to accomplish that feat. Weber would join Iowa's Chuck Long (10,461), Northwestern's Brett Basanez (10,580), Purdue's Curtis Painter (11,163) and Purdue's Drew Brees (11.792) in that exclusive club.
- Northwestern has been strong coming out of the locker room in its first six games this season, outscoring opponents 98-28 in the first and third quarters combined. The Wildcats have been outscored by seven points in both the second and fourth quarters.
- Michigan State is the highest ranked Big Ten team in the AP Poll for the 1st time since the final poll in the 1987 season. That Spartans team finished 9-2-1 and was ranked No. 8 after beating USC in the Rose Bowl.
- Wisconsin's John Clay and James White form one of just two running back tandems in the FBS to both rush for at least 80 yards per game. Michigan State's Edwin Baker and Le'Veon Bell form the other pair.
- Here's a very favorable outlook for the Big Ten in the 2011 NFL draft, including three out of the first four picks and five out of the top 16.
- A significant expansion from the Big Ten would send shock waves through college sports, Phil Miller writes in the Star Tribune. The Big Ten Network and the revenue it generates is the driving force behind expansion, Miller writes.
- Former Big Ten standouts Curtis Painter and Drew Stanton are among the quarterbacks who didn't live up to the hype in the NFL, colleague Bruce Feldman writes.
- Iowa made a $55,000 profit from its Orange Bowl trip, B.A. Morelli writes in the Iowa City Press-Citizen. The kickoff time for Iowa's road game at Michigan is set, and the Hawkeyes will host only one night game this fall, Marc Morehouse writes in The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette.
- Freshman running back Silas Redd is making some noise at Penn State, Jared Shanker writes in The (Harrisburg) Patriot-News.
- Three Purdue quarterback greats will gather June 22 in West Lafayette.
- Michigan and Michigan State both are in the mix for offensive tackle prospect Aundrey Walker, Sam Webb writes in The Detroit News.
- The mother of the late Northwestern football player Rashidi Wheeler is being sued for not paying her legal fees, Serena Maria Daniels writes in the Chicago Tribune. Northwestern season-ticket holders now can buy more tickets to the Wrigley Field game, Teddy Greenstein writes.
OK, moving on to less depressing topics, like the Big Ten and Super Bowl XLIV.
Once again, the Big Ten has plenty of connections to the game, including 20 former players on the two teams, more than any other conference.
All 11 member schools will be represented by a player and/or coach participating in the game. Michigan has the highest number of former players (four), followed by Ohio State (three) and then six teams -- Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Northwestern, Purdue and Wisconsin -- each with two former players. Penn State and Minnesota will have former coaches on the sideline Sunday.
Both head coaches have Big Ten roots, as the Colts' Jim Caldwell played at Iowa and served as an assistant at Iowa, Northwestern and Penn State. The Saints' Sean Payton had a one-year stint as an Illinois assistant in 1996.
Here's the full lineup of Big Ten links to Super Bowl XLIV, courtesy of the league office:
Kelvin Hayden, DB, Illinois
Dallas Clark, TE, Iowa
Bob Sanders*, DB, Iowa
Mike Hart, RB, Michigan
Marlin Jackson*, DB, Michigan
Ervin Baldwin, DE, Michigan State
John Gill, DL, Northwestern
Anthony Gonzalez*, WR, Ohio State
Curtis Painter, QB, Purdue
Jim Sorgi*, QB, Wisconsin
Jim Caldwell, Head Coach (Played at Iowa from 1973-76; Assistant at Iowa in 1977, Northwestern in 1981 and Penn State from 1986-92)
Larry Coyer, Defensive Coordinator (Assistant at Iowa from 1974-77 and Ohio State from 1991-92)
Gene Huey, Running Backs (Assistant at Ohio State from 1988-91)
Tom Moore, Offensive Coordinator (Played at Iowa from 1957-60; Assistant at Iowa from 1961-62 and Minnesota from 1972-73 and 1975-76)
Ray Rychleski, Special Teams (Assistant at Penn State in 1991)
Bill Teerlinck, Defensive Assistant (Assistant at Indiana from 2003-04)
John Teerlinck, Defensive Line (Assistant at Illinois from 1980-82)
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
Pierre Thomas, RB, Illinois
Tracy Porter, CB, Indiana
Courtney Roby, WR, Indiana
Adrian Arrington, WR, Michigan
Jonathan Goodwin, C, Michigan
Zach Strief, OT, Northwestern
Malcolm Jenkins, CB, Ohio State
Will Smith, DE, Ohio State
Drew Brees, QB, Purdue
Jonathan Casillas, LB, Wisconsin
Sean Payton, Head Coach (Assistant at Illinois in 1996)
Greg McMahon, Special Teams (Assistant at Minnesota from 1983-84 and Illinois from 1992-2004)
Bret Ingalls, Running Backs (Assistant at Northwestern from 2006-08)
Aaron Kromer, Offensive Line/Running Game (Assistant at Northwestern from 1999-2000)
Mike Mallory, Assistant Special Teams (Played at Michigan from 1982-85; Assistant at Indiana from 1986-87 and Illinois from 2001-05)
Terry Malone, Tight Ends (Assistant at Michigan from 1997-2005)
A few shout-outs and smack-downs to those not recognized previously (helmet stickers, players of the week, etc.).
Thumbs up, Greg Jones -- It seems like everyone takes Jones for granted at this point, but what he's doing every week is truly amazing. Jones led Michigan State in tackles in each of his first two seasons, and barring injury, he'll lead the Big Ten and possibly the nation this year. The junior linebacker currently leads the nation in total tackles (85) and ranks second in tackles average (12.1 tpg).
Thumbs down, Terrelle Pryor -- He doesn't deserve all the blame for what's wrong with Ohio State's offense, but he should be performing better than this. Turnovers are a Cardinal sin, especially on Jim Tressel's team, and Pryor had four of them against Purdue. After watching fellow No. 1 recruits Matt Barkley and Jimmy Clausen light up the sky in South Bend on Saturday, I have to wonder when Pryor will truly blossom.
Thumbs up, Derek Moye -- The Penn State sophomore wide receiver had a big day against Minnesota, making six receptions for 120 yards. He also turned in arguably the best catch of the weekend, a diving 12-yard grab in the end zone with only 35 seconds left in the first half. Moye and teammate Chaz Powell are quickly blossoming into good Big Ten receivers.
Thumbs down, Wisconsin's quarterback switch -- Many of us were scratching our heads at Camp Randall Stadium when Curt Phillips replaced Scott Tolzien at quarterback midway through the second quarter with Wisconsin leading 10-3. Tolzien had just led a 92-yard touchdown drive, during which he connected on several impressive play-action passes. The decision to insert Phillips seemed to stop the momentum, and Wisconsin never scored again. There's no need to get cute against a team like Iowa.
Thumbs up, Derrell Johnson-Koulianos -- After a slow start to the season, DJK is showing why he's Iowa's best wide receiver and one of the best in the league. Johnson-Koulianos led Iowa with eight receptions for 113 yards against Wisconsin and has 176 receiving yards in his last two games. If Johnson-Koulianos and tight end Tony Moeaki continue to make plays for Ricky Stanzi, the run game will open up more and more.
Thumbs down, Illinois' defense -- We can continue to rag on the offense, but at least the unit showed some life behind Juice Williams. Illinois' defense got absolutely shredded by quarterback Ben Chappell and Indiana, which should have scored way more than 27 points in Saturday night's win. This season has been an across-the-board disaster, and the defense shouldn't be spared.
Thumbs up, Tom Bradley -- It's pretty clear to me who Penn State's next head coach should be. Bradley has done a fabulous job with the Nittany Lions defense, which ranks second nationally in scoring (8.71 ppg) after shutting out Minnesota on Saturday. Despite not having linebackers Navorro Bowman and Sean Lee on the field together for most of the year, Bradley's defense hasn't allowed a first-half touchdown all season. Things do get much tougher Saturday at Michigan.
Thumbs down, Minnesota's first-down offense -- The run game has been a disappointment most of the season, and things reached a low point against Penn State. Minnesota had just one of its first eight plays on first down go for positive yards against the Lions, and Adam Weber was constantly in third-and-long. First-year coordinator Jedd Fisch needs to get things figured out as Minnesota faces an angry Ohio State team on Saturday.
Thumbs up, unheralded wide receivers -- Several of the Big Ten's best wide receivers this fall generated little to no hype during the recruiting process. Michigan State's Blair White and Northwestern's Zeke Markshausen, who combined for 28 receptions and 297 receiving yards in Saturday's game, both were walk-ons. Indiana's Tandon Doss wasn't a big-time recruit coming out of high school. Neither was Minnesota's Eric Decker. But all those players rank among the top six in the Big Ten in receiving yards.
Thumbs down, Northwestern's offensive line -- Offensive lineman are supposed to prefer run blocking to pass blocking, but evidently this doesn't apply to Northwestern's crew. Northwestern has tried everything to get the run game going but hasn't gotten consistent push from a line that returned four starters. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald sounds like he's ready to abandon the run entirely if things don't improve soon.
And, finally ...
Thumbs up, Joey Elliott -- The Purdue quarterback has turned in a very solid senior season, but he wasn't rewarded until Saturday. Elliott finally got the signature win that eluded his predecessor Curtis Painter as he passed for 281 yards and two touchdowns in Purdue's upset of Ohio State.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Step into my office ...
Alex from Iowa City, Iowa, writes: Hey Adam, Great writing so far this season. I have been reading a lot about the game last night and the national picture. Claims saying Iowa still has to "pass tests" and "prove themselves" in order to be considered anything. 4-0 and 3 games of domination does not do it? USC loses to a pathetic team but is still in the national title contention list? Michigan is considered the most underrated team even after a measly victory over Indiana? Iowa is used to no respect, but this is getting ridiculous.
Adam Rittenberg: Here's my advice to you and the rest of Hawkeye Nation: be patient and follow the lead of your head coach. Kirk Ferentz doesn't care about September rankings, and he's absolutely right. There's a long way to go, but in some ways, Iowa finds itself in the best position of any Big Ten team to make a national title run. And it's because of the Hawkeyes' tough schedule. People could knock Penn State, Michigan and Wisconsin for not playing anybody. They can knock Ohio State for losing to USC at home. But if Iowa runs the table, the Hawkeyes will own road wins against Penn State, Ohio State and Wisconsin, coupled with a home win against Michigan. Plus, Iowa has two BCS nonconference victories (ISU, Arizona). If that doesn't get Iowa in the national title game, there's something seriously wrong. So be patient. The computers will reward Iowa, and the Hawks will continue to climb if they continue to win.
Andy from Sylva, N.C., writes: Adam who is the most dangerous team in the conference right now? I think it is Wisconsin. They were so disappointing last year no one wants to jump on the bandwagon but that is probably all for the best. They were very close last year, they just didn't have a QB and their defense gave up whenever things got bad. Now with Tolzien and guys like Schofield and Maragos leading the D, the Badgers have a quiet confidence. And how can you not be a fan of Chris Borland? UW was the only BCS conference school that even offered him a scholarship!
Adam Rittenberg: Wisconsin certainly has impressed me so far, and if opponents take the Badgers lightly in the coming weeks, they'll probably get burned. I would, however, like to see a road victory or two before giving Wisconsin my full stamp of approval. The Badgers have really struggled away from Camp Randall the past two seasons, and Saturday's trip to Minnesota provides a good test. I really like what I've seen from Scott Tolzien on offense and O'Brien Schofield on defense. OB is playing like a senior captain should. As for Borland, he's unreal. Love to hear stories like his. He'll be a star for Wisconsin in the future.
Perry from Cincinnati writes: Michigan State fans should be furious that Mark Dantonio was hired rather than Brian Kelly. Brian Kelly is a superior coach and a better "PR" person for a program that needed someone to generate excitement. If Dantonio were still the UC coach, Cincinnati would not have played in the Orange Bowl last year and would not be ranked in the top 10 this year.
Adam Rittenberg: Let me start off by saying that no head coach in college football has impressed me more this season than Brian Kelly. His teams are fearless and his offensive scheme makes decent players into superstars. I absolutely loved the way Cincinnati went into Corvallis and didn't flinch where others (i.e. USC) always do. That said, Michigan State still made the right call with Mark Dantonio. As I wrote this summer, instability has doomed Michigan State's program during the past 15 years, and Dantonio will be in East Lansing for the long haul. He might not be as progressive as Kelly and won't get Michigan State to a BCS game for at least another year or two, but he provides a steadying force for that program. Kelly has loftier goals than Cincinnati, and I'd be surprised if he doesn't make a jump after the season.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Joey Elliott chose to attend Purdue largely because he expected the coaching staff to remain in place for the long haul.
Didn't exactly work out that way.
"Since I've been here, we've gone through three [offensive] coordinators, three quarterback coaches and two head coaches," the fifth-year senior quarterback said Thursday. "So I've had a lot of change."
Despite the fluctuation on the sideline, Elliott finds a silver lining. He intends to pursue a coaching career once his playing days are done, and now he has a lot more contacts in the business.
"This is going to open up more doors for me," he said.
Elliott has opened doors for new Boilermakers head coach Danny Hope and his staff this summer as they transition from Joe Tiller's 12-year run here. From grasping the details of the offense to leading voluntary workouts to keeping the energy level high in practice, Elliott has been the ideal leader for a new staff to inherit.
When it comes to the intangibles coaches seek in their starting quarterback, Elliott fits the mold.
"He's a high-motor guy for a quarterback," Hope said. "He talks fast and he plays fast and he's a high-energy guy. That's good for us right now, with all our young guys and keeping everybody's attention."
The only thing left for Elliott to do is prove himself in games. He backed up Curtis Painter for three seasons, and when his chance for more playing time arrived last fall, he suffered a season-ending separated shoulder Oct. 18 at Northwestern.
Elliott's career stat line: 27 completions, 300 passing yards, 2 touchdowns, 2 interceptions, 10 games, 0 starts.
New Purdue offensive coordinator Gary Nord put it best this spring when he told me, "Was he just stuck behind a really good player, or was he not good enough? That's the question you have."
Elliott's top wide receiver knows the answer.
"He's just been behind a great quarterback," junior Keith Smith said. "Curtis was here and he did very well for this program. [Elliott] was just in a bum situation, but now it's his time to shine. He's going to lead us to many victories this year."
Smith knew Elliott's coaching aspirations as soon as he arrived at Purdue in 2006. Then a quarterback, Smith got regular tips from Elliott before he moved to safety and eventually wide receiver.
Elliott understands his added responsibilities this fall as the projected starter and a co-captain. Despite being backstage for most of his career, he's ready for the spotlight.
"As a quarterback at Purdue, if you get recruited here, you come here to run the offense," Elliott said. "You have to know everything every person's doing on the field and be able to check the offense into the right play and try to get us out of as many bad plays as possible.
"I wouldn't ever say I have anything to prove to myself. I have high hopes for the season, for myself and for my team."
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- The students are back on campus here at Purdue, and they have questions for Boilermakers junior wide receiver Keith Smith.
"Everyone's coming up, saying, 'How's [quarterback] Joey [Elliott] looking? How's the defense looking? How's the offense?" Smith said. "Everyone's always asking because they don't know anyone right now. They've gotten so used to seeing Curtis Painter and Greg Orton and those guys.
"Just for it to be a change-up, people are going to doubt it and they're not going to know what's going on."
No team in the Big Ten seems harder to decipher than Purdue, which went through a wave of changes in personnel and on the coaching staff during the offseason. Longtime head coach Joe Tiller departed along with both coordinators, and new coach Danny Hope hired three new assistants for running backs, the offensive line and special teams.
The Boilers lose Painter, their record-setting quarterback, along with their top two receivers (Orton and Desmond Tardy), their starting running back (Kory Sheets) and several veteran defenders, including linebacker Anthony Heygood.
Hope's first recruiting class also had a mysterious quality about it, with 14 mostly unheralded players from the state of Florida.
"On paper, it's easy for people to make their assessments, when you look at people coming back, who's left," linebacker Jason Werner said. "But you can't judge talent if you haven't seen it yet."
And Werner is convinced Purdue boasts enough talent to compete in the Big Ten.
The freshmen are expected to contribute immediately and several have stood out in camp, including wide receivers Antavian Edison and Gary Bush and linebackers Dwayne Beckford and Antwon Higgs. Purdue gets Werner and running back Jaycen Taylor back from injuries that kept them out all of last season, and junior college players like wideouts Keith Carlos join the mix.
"We know what we're capable of and what we can do," Smith said. "There's a lot of unanswered questions that will be answered real soon."
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Cornell Jackson started spring practice with just a basic working knowledge of the Purdue running backs he was hired to coach.
He wouldn't have wanted things any other way.
Everything Jackson knew about the Boilers backs came from his job interview with head coach Danny Hope, who briefed him on each of the players. After being hired, Jackson chose not to watch any film on the backs, giving them a blank canvas to display their skills.
"As a position coach, you want to see your guys perform live," Jackson said. "In morning workouts, I watched them run around. And then once we started spring ball, that was my deal, to watch them run, to watch them block, to watch them catch, all those things."
Needless to say, he liked what he saw.
Although Purdue didn't have its most experienced back (Jaycen Taylor) or quite possibly its most promising runner (freshman Al-Terek McBurse) on the field this spring, Jackson and Hope came out of the 15 practices feeling optimistic about the running back position.
Arguably no player in the Big Ten had a more eye-popping spring performance than Boilers sophomore Ralph Bolden, who rushed for 420 yards and four touchdowns on 66 carries in four scrimmages. Junior Dan Dierking added 211 rushing yards and three touchdowns, including 95 yards and two scores in the Black & Gold game.
The emergence of both Bolden and Dierking bodes well for Purdue, which loses almost all of its starting skill players from last season, including quarterback Curtis Painter and running back Kory Sheets. Both backfield positions looked shaky entering spring ball, but running back could end up being a surprising source of depth for the Boilers this fall.
"I was pleased that those kids did exactly what we asked them to do and how we asked them to do it," Jackson said. "Those kids proved to me that they want to contribute to this football team. From the standpoint of depth, I feel good."
Bolden, Dierking and burly senior Frank Halliburton all impressed Jackson during the practice, and the group will get even stronger this fall.
Taylor, who split carries with Sheets in 2006 and 2007, is on schedule to return from a torn ACL sustained in training camp last summer. He was held out of contact this spring but brings plenty of experience and leadership to the field.
McBurse, the team's top incoming recruit, gained clearance from the NCAA in late April after eligibility issues prevented him from participating in spring ball.
"He was here in the spring, he was involved in meetings, he saw guys at practice," Jackson said of McBurse, a heralded back from Winter Springs, Fla. "In his mind, he's thinking, 'Hey, I can do this, too.' When we start camp, the young man is going to want to get in the mix and we're going to get him in there."
Bolden was a virtual unknown before spring practice. He tore his ACL toward the end of his senior year in high school and was still somewhat limited last season at Purdue, where he had 16 carries in eight games as a reserve.
"Ralph's got the quick feet," Jackson said. "He's a small back (5-9, 194), so sometimes he can hide behind those offensive linemen, find that seam and break through. Here's a guy that has got a low center of gravity, got great vision and got tremendous speed."
Halliburton brings power to the backfield at 6-2, 251 pounds, while Dierking is closer to Bolden's size but boasts a thick frame and good blocking skills.
Purdue has been primarily a pass-first team during the spread offense era, but the run game could play a bigger role in new coordinator Gary Nord's scheme.
"The thing I want to accomplish out of all these guys," Jackson said, "I don't care who's in the ballgame, I don't care what situation it might be. I just don't want the offense to change because you've got to put a different guy in there. I want the offense to stay the same. I think we accomplished that this spring."
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Everett the G from Philly writes: Adam, now that the incessant hype of the NFL Draft has concluded for 2009 can we marvel at the spectacle that the draft has become? While some would argue that its popularity is due to America's insatiable appetite for all things NFL, I would counter that the reason the draft is such a big event is because this is the one event where NFL and college football fans find a common ground. NFL fans want to see how their teams gets better and to learn about players from smaller schools they may not be aware of, while college fans want to see where their favorite players end up, how high they were drafted, and how that can be leveraged when trying to lure new 5 star recruits into their system. As a Big 10 fan, I certainly did notice that system QBs like Chase Daniel and Grahm Harrell weren't drafted, yet players in traditional pro style offenses like Troy Smith, Chad Henne, Curtis Painter have all been drafted. I can understand why a Terrelle Pryor chooses Ohio State over Oregon or other gimmicky (albeit effective) offenses if he wants to play on Sundays.
Adam Rittenberg: It's certainly a tough market out there for spread offense quarterbacks like Harrell and Daniel, though Painter also operated in the spread at Purdue. In general, the Big Ten's style of play translates well to the next level. All the draft hoopla this year reminded me a lot of national signing day, and I think it speaks to a new phenomenon among football fans. It seems like people are more interested/obsessed with what might be than what actually is. Fans love to speculate about which recruits/picks will pan out, while the issues with the current team kind of take a backseat. It's almost like the future is more interesting to them than the present. I agree that the draft brings pro and college fans together.
Jon from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Some reporters in the West have pointed out that Ohio State fans should get a life. Is it a bad thing to draw 95,722 for a Spring Game? Is this jealousy by some in college football for the tremendous support Ohio State has? If USC had drawn 95,722 for its Spring Game, would it be a different tone from the West?
Adam Rittenberg: I'll write more on this in Wednesday's blog, but I think it has everything to do with location. Ohio State is Columbus' pro team, and if you practice inside a huge stadium on a beautiful day with a bunch of new, exciting players at key positions, people are going to show up. The Blue Jackets were already out of the NHL playoffs. Though I didn't expect such a huge crowd at The Shoe, you can't criticize Buckeyes fans for supporting their team. It's different in L.A. -- a lot more sporting options, especially right now with baseball and the NBA playoffs. This might be the Northern Californian in me talking, but L.A. sports fans should never be the standard when judging devotion to a team.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
The 2009 NFL draft was a fairly forgettable one for the Big Ten, which didn't have a top-10 pick for the first time since 2002 and had fewer first-round picks (4) than the SEC, ACC and Big 12. Michigan didn't have a player drafted until the fourth round (defensive tackle Terrance Taylor), while hoops powerhouse Connecticut already had four players drafted by that point.
The Big Ten had 28 players drafted overall and 15 in the first three rounds, the second-highest total for a league.
Here's the team-by-team breakdown of draft picks, which looks pretty good if you're an Ohio State fan.
- Cornerback Malcolm Jenkins, Saints (1st round, No. 14)
- Running back Chris Wells, Cardinals (1st round, No. 31)
- Linebacker James Laurinaitis, Rams (2nd round, No. 35)
- Wide receiver Brian Robiskie, Browns (2nd round, No. 36)
- Cornerback Donald Washington, Chiefs (4th round, No. 102)
- Wide receiver Brian Hartline, Dolphins (4th round, No. 108)
- Linebacker Marcus Freeman, Bears (5th round, No. 154)
- Defensive end Aaron Maybin, Bills (1st round, No. 11)
- Wide receiver Derrick Williams, Lions (3rd round, No. 82)
- Wide receiver Deon Butler, Seahawks (3rd round, No. 91)
- Guard Rich Ohrnberger, Patriots (4th round, No. 123)
- Center A.Q. Shipley, Steelers (7th round, No. 226)
- Running back Shonn Greene, Jets (3rd round, No. 65)
- Cornerback Bradley Fletcher, Rams (3rd round, No. 66)
- Guard/tackle Seth Olsen, Broncos (4th round, No. 132)
- Tight end Brandon Myers, Raiders (6th round, No. 202)
- Defensive end Matt Shaughnessy, Raiders (3rd round, No. 71)
- Linebacker DeAndre Levy, Rams (3rd round, No. 76)
- Guard Kraig Urbik, Steelers (3rd round, No. 79)
- Tight end Travis Beckum, Giants (3rd round, No. 100)
- Cornerback Vontae Davis, Dolphins (1st round, No. 25)
- Tackle Xavier Fulton, Buccaneers (5th round, No. 155)
- Defensive end Will Davis, Cardinals (6th round, No. 204)
- Defensive tackle Alex Magee, Chiefs (3rd round, No. 67)
- Quarterback Curtis Painter, Colts (6th round, No. 201)
- Defensive tackle Terrance Taylor, Colts (4th round, No. 136)
- Cornerback Morgan Trent, Bengals (6th round, No. 179)
- Running back Javon Ringer, Titans (5th round, No. 173)
Northwestern, Minnesota and Indiana did not have any players drafted this year.
Notable Big Ten players not drafted included: Iowa defensive tackle Mitch King, Ohio State offensive tackle Alex Boone, Michigan State quarterback Brian Hoyer, Penn State defensive end Maurice Evans, Purdue running back Kory Sheets, Northwestern running back Tyrell Sutton, Wisconsin running back P.J. Hill and Michigan State safety Otis Wiley.
A few final thoughts from the draft.
- Wells entered the 2008 season as a sure-fire top-10 pick, but his injury history dropped his stock a bit. He still ended up in a pretty good spot and should have an excellent pro career if he stays healthy.
- The draft reiterated how bad the Big Ten is at the quarterback spot, with only one signal-caller selected (Painter).
- The Giants will get a steal in Beckum if the former All-American stays healthy. I also liked Seattle's move to land Penn State's Butler, a reliable and quick target. The Bears could get a steal at linebacker with Freeman, who would have been the top defender on most college teams.
- It will be fascinating to see how Greene and Ringer perform in the pros after carrying their respective college teams last fall.
- I was shocked not to see Iowa's King get drafted. He might not fit the NFL "measurables," but he creates havoc in the middle of the defensive line and might have been the Big Ten's defensive MVP last fall.
- As I wrote in November, Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald and Michigan State's Mark Dantonio deserved Big Ten Coach of the Year honors more than Joe Paterno. Fitzgerald guided Northwestern to a 9-4 mark without a single NFL draftee on his roster, while Dantonio posted the same record with only one draftee (Ringer).
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Check out the Big Ten's spring prospectus, if you haven't already. One item that stood out to me is the fact that the Big Ten returns its six-most efficient quarterbacks from 2008.
Is this a good thing?
The easy answer is yes. Who doesn't want an experienced and efficient quarterback taking snaps for another year?
On the flip side, as stated countless times in this blog, quarterback play is the biggest factor separating the Big Ten from rejoining college football's elite.
Last year was downright miserable for Big Ten quarterbacks, as all-conference candidates like Purdue's Curtis Painter, Ohio State's Todd Boeckman and Indiana's Kellen Lewis really struggled. Northwestern's C.J. Bacher was average, at best, and both Iowa and Wisconsin replaced their opening-day starters.
So as you look at this list, keep in mind that at least five of the six players (Penn State's Daryll Clark is the exception) need to improve on last year's numbers to truly elevate quarterback play around the league.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Joey Elliott has waited his turn, longer than almost any other Big Ten player. He backed up Curtis Painter at Purdue for three years, finally closed the gap last fall and then suffered a season-ending shoulder injury at Northwestern.
|Sandra Dukes/Icon SMI|
|Barring a major upset, Joey Elliott will make his first career start to open the season.|
After Friday's news at Purdue, Elliott's wait is most likely over.
Sophomore Justin Siller, Elliott's primary competition for the starting quarterback spot, has been dismissed from Purdue for violating academic policy. After participating in Purdue's first few workouts of the spring, Siller sat out Wednesday's practice to focus on his academics.
Head coach Danny Hope indicated Siller would be back at practice today. Instead, he's out of school completely.
"It's a disappointing conclusion and, as a football team, we feel for Justin and his family," Hope said in a prepared statement released today. "Justin made a mistake -- a bad decision -- and deserved to be punished. Our hope was that he would not be punished to the extent he has been. Now it is our responsibility to accept the decision and move forward. Justin is a fine young man, and we wish him nothing but the best."
Elliott entered spring ball as the front-runner at quarterback, but Siller started three games last fall and brought more versatility to the position. Siller switched from quarterback to running back last fall before injuries forced him to return to his original position. He led Purdue past Michigan in his first career start and showed promising signs as a runner.
This certainly isn't the way Elliott wanted to earn a starting job, and he'll still need to hold off redshirt freshman Caleb TerBush, who Hope said has had a strong spring. But Elliott's experience (10 games) trumps the other quarterbacks, and he brings good leadership skills to the table. Barring a major surprise, Elliott will make his first career start Sept. 5 against Toledo.
"He'll come to you sometimes with some play-calling ideas, some ideas about how we're going about our business," Hope told me on Monday. "He's a pretty special guy, he really is."
It's a good thing Purdue didn't make dramatic changes on offense despite bringing in a new coordinator in Gary Nord. The Boilers will still run the shotgun spread, with a few tweaks here and there.
Elliott, who wants to enter coaching immediately after he's done playing, should absorb things well this spring. But depth is now a major issue going into the fall.
Hope talked Monday about how he was more concerned with developing all of the Boilers' quarterbacks rather than selecting a clear No. 1. Purdue has a clear No. 1 now in Elliott, but it can't afford any more attrition.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
The Big Ten's only new head coach isn't new at Purdue. Danny Hope was there for Purdue's rebirth in the late 1990s and returned last year as head coach-in waiting and offensive line coach. Those tags have since been removed, and Hope is going through his first practices as the man in charge. Purdue comes off a 4-8 season and missed a bowl for just the second time since Joe Tiller's arrival in 1997. Hope brought in five new coaches during the offseason, including offensive coordinator Gary Nord and defensive coordinator Donn Landholm.
|Sandra Dukes/Icon SMI|
|Joey Elliott is a candidate to start at QB for Purdue in 2009.|
The Boilers have competition at quarterback, running back and wide receiver as they try to turn things around in Hope's first year. I caught up with Hope earlier this week.
A few practices in, is the team where you thought it would be? Ahead of schedule? Behind schedule?
Danny Hope: We're ahead in some ways. Obviously, when you have a guy like Curtis Painter, who was accomplished as he was at the quarterback spot, you've got a lot of work to do. We are eight receivers short from the roster of 2008. So I didn't really know what to expect when we went out the first day in shorts last Wednesday, but I was very pleased with what we've got done so far. We are able to go out there and execute the offense to some degree, which is a good sign for us this early in spring. The good thing about our quarterback spot, even though we don't have a bona fide returning starter, is our top two quarterbacks played in 2008.
How does the quarterback competition shape up right now?
DH: Joey Elliott was a very good No. 2 quarterback for us, was actually putting pressure on Painter and starting to get in some games, and then he got injured. You're not getting a rookie. He's a football junkie. He loves it. He had shoulder surgery and his health status is much better than I thought it would be at the start of spring. He's throwing the ball better, got a little more zip on it. He's a guy who knows more about the offense than anyone else we have on that side of the ball right now. So him being healthy enough to go out there and throw was a huge shot in the arm for us. And obviously, Justin Siller, even though he wasn't that well prepared because he had not been in the lineup before and was working as a running back, we beat Michigan with Justin Siller and he's a great athlete. He has some game experience. So we don't have two varsity rookies out there. That's a good sign. And I really like what I'm seeing out of our freshman, Caleb TerBush, who was on the scout team all of last year, he's out there getting some great reps. We're further along at the quarterback spot than I thought we were going to be, but when you're comparing it to the likes of Drew Brees, Kyle Orton and Curtis Painter, we're nowhere near that.
Do you have a timetable on when you'd like to make a decision on a starter? Will it go well into preseason camp?
DH: Everybody asks that, and the most important thing to me is the development at the quarterback position, not just one particular quarterback. Last year is a classic example of what I'm talking about, where Painter went down and Joey Elliott got hurt and we had to take Justin Siller from running back and move him to quarterback, and he wasn't prepared to do so. I think the development of all of our quarterbacks is key this spring, and certainly the No. 1. We'll play as many players as we can, so I'm not really concerned about saying there has to be a certain deadline or due date as long as each and every one of our quarterbacks are improving and can get themselves in position to help us win. That's more important than naming a guy.