Purdue made progress in 2014, albeit slight. Under second-year coach Darrell Hazell, the Boilermakers identified young talent and committed to it. There were rough moments, of course, but a win at Illinois -- Hazell’s lone Big Ten victory -- showed the capabilities of this group, which also played competitively in losses to Notre Dame, Michigan State, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
This spring provides an opportunity to build on the growth of last fall and eliminate the inconsistency that stands between Purdue and notable improvement.
Schedule: The Boilermakers open the spring Tuesday afternoon and will practice Wednesday and Thursday before an 11-day break. Scrimmages are planned for March 28 and April 11. The spring game draft is April 15, and the spring finale is set for 1 p.m. April 18 at Ross-Ade Stadium. All practices and scrimmages are open to the public.
What’s new? Hazell lost receivers coach Kevin Sherman to Pitt, shifting Gerad Parker’s responsibilities from tight ends to the receivers. Former Michigan offensive line coach and offensive coordinator Terry Malone was hired to coach the tight ends. Malone spent the past nine seasons with the New Orleans Saints.
Biggest question: Who’s the quarterback? It’s pretty obvious this looms above all else in Purdue camp. Yes, Purdue faces equally weighty decisions at other positions, but this is the most pressing so that the Boilermakers can move forward on offense behind a leader. Rising junior Austin Appleby, after accumulating 1,449 yards, 10 touchdowns and 11 interceptions last season upon taking over in October, enters spring as the favorite, but the race is far from settled. Classmate Danny Etling started in 2013 as a true freshman and for the first month of 2014, and David Blough, who redshirted last fall, brings strong credentials as a prospect. Elijah Sindelar, a 6-foot-4 true freshman who enrolled in January, joins the mix for spring while recovering from a knee injury. All four quarterbacks have a shot. They will address the media Wednesday in West Lafayette.
Three things we want to see:
1. A maturing group of receivers. Without the production from departed backs Akeem Hunt, a dangerous receiving threat, and Raheem Mostert, Purdue needs its pass catchers to step into bigger roles. Yes, the quarterback play dipped in November last season, but it coincided with the absence of top receiver Danny Anthrop, who is returning from a knee injury. DeAngelo Yancey must rebound from a disappointing sophomore season. Cameron Posey, Gregory Phillips, Trae Hart and transfer Anthony Mahoungou add options.
2. Better overall depth on defense. Defensive end Ryan Russell and safety Landon Feichter are gone from key roles last season, but the Boilermakers were young across the board defensively. Despite the ugly numbers -- Purdue ranked 10th in the Big Ten in total defense, 12th in scoring and lacked a consistent pass rush -- talent exists. Juniors Jake Replogle and Ra'Zahn Howard form a strong duo up front. Now’s the time for Gelen Robinson and Evan Panfil to develop up front. Behind senior corners Frankie Williams (out this spring), and Anthony Brown, sophomore Da'Wan Hunte">Da'Wan Hunte gets a shot. Purdue needs more youth to emerge.
3. Additional growth from the linebackers. Credit linebackers coach Marcus Freeman and coordinator Greg Hudson for improvement throughout last season in the heart of the Purdue defense. Danny Ezechukwu and Ja'Whaun Bentley -- the man in the middle who had a strong list of Power 5 scholarship offers out of the Washington, D.C., area a year ago -- flashed their potential as freshmen. Jimmy Herman is also back as a junior. If the group stays healthy, no doubt it ranks in the top half of the West Division.