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Purdue Boilermakers spring practice preview

Purdue begins an important year for head coach Darrell Hazell with its first spring practice Tuesday afternoon.

The Boilermakers have won six games in the last three seasons since Hazell came to West Lafayette, two of them against Big Ten opponents. The floundering program has shown glimpses of progress in that time, but the same annual issues have kept them from making a dent in the sizable gap left to close between Purdue and the surging conference. Hazell may be running out of opportunities if he can’t put together some reasons for optimism in the 2016, which begins with this week’s spring practices.

Spring schedule: Purdue will take the field Tuesday afternoon at 3:30 p.m. and open its doors for any who want to watch. All 15 of the team’s practices this spring will be open to the public, a rarity in college football. The team is scheduled to wrap up with a spring game at 1 p.m. on Saturday, April 16.

What’s new? Hazell’s attempt to create some new momentum this winter included getting rid of coordinators on both sides of the ball and hiring a new defensive line coach. Terry Malone, former tight ends coach, takes over for ousted offensive coordinator John Shoop. He promised to use a more player-friendly (Read: More simple) playbook next fall. Newcomer Ross Els, who coached Nebraska’s linebackers under Bo Pelini, will be a defensive co-coordinator with Marcus Freeman, who coached Purdue’s linebackers last year. Randy Melvin is the new defensive line coach.

Three things we want to see:

1. Consistency at quarterback: One of the annual issues under Hazell has been a midseason quarterback swap. In each of the last two years, Purdue named a starter heading into the regular season only to change its mind by the end of October. David Blough started the second half of last season and is the frontrunner for the job in 2016. He’ll be challenged though by former blue-chipper, redshirt freshman Elijah Sindelar. That puts the offense in the same position as the last couple of years.

Purdue hired Tim Lester as a dedicated quarterbacks coach after moving Malone to offensive coordinator. He and the Boilermaker offense would be off to a good start if one of his guys becomes the clear cut top option at the end of spring and has a full summer to cement a permanent spot in the starting lineup.

2. A step forward on the offensive line: Purdue’s weakest link under Hazell has been the offensive line and there’s no evidence that will change this fall. Center Robert Kluger graduated and left tackle Cameron Cermin is battling an injured shoulder. With barely enough healthy bodies to field two full units, the offensive line won’t be able to develop much depth this spring. At a minimum though, it needs to show improvement to help running back Markell Jones, who had a standout freshman year in the backfield.

3. What will the defensive backfield look like? Els and Freeman will have some important decisions to make in the secondary in the coming month. The Boilermakers graduated top cornerbacks Anthony Brown and Frankie Williams, leaving them with little experience in coverage. Senior safety Leroy Clark was the team’s leading tackler and will have to be a big part of getting new guys settled in around him. Will Purdue be able to find answers on defense this spring or have to wait until some potential freshmen candidates arrive in the summer?