Purdue finished spring practice Saturday with an emphasis on finishing.
The Boilermakers want to finish games. They want to finish plays. Ultimately, coach Darrell Hazell said last week, Purdue coaches and players believe they can finish victories -- sparse during the first two years under Hazell’s guidance in West Lafayette.
Offensive coordinator John Shoop instituted an up-tempo offensive system this spring in an effort to capitalize on the Boilermakers’ skill at quarterback and experience on the offensive line. Reviews were mixed over 15 practices in March and April, but a speedier approach looks set to take hold in 2015.
The first question
Hazell did not name a starting quarterback at the end of spring practice, so expect the debate to rage into August. And that’s OK, as long as the Boilermakers find their man with time to spare before the Sept. 6 opener at Marshall.
Appleby, the junior who took over for Danny Etling midway through last season, completed 10 of 18 passes for 147 yards, one touchdown and one interception in the spring game. The redshirt freshman Blough connected on 16 of 22 throws for 173 yards with two scores and one pick. And Etling, a junior playing for both teams, finished 11 of 16 for 148 yards with one interception.
The turnovers are a concern. Appleby enters the next phase of this offseason with an edge to start, but don’t discount Blough, an athletic alternative who gained 56 yards on the ground Saturday but was sacked three times behind a mish-mash of offensive linemen.
Positions of strength
The future looked bright after last season for Purdue’s linebackers, and this spring did nothing to dim expectations. Sophomores Ja'Whaun Bentley and Danny Ezechukwu, alongside junior Jimmy Herman, form a group that ranks in the upper half of the West Division. Bentley and junior Andy James Garcia intercepted passes in the spring game, and Herman led all defenders with two tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
Purdue quarterbacks were sacked five times in the spring game, but the offensive line remains a solid area for the Boilermakers. Confidence in this group, led by senior center Robert Kugler, helped ease the transition to a quicker tempo.
Though the departures of Akeem Hunt and Raheem Mostert at running back leave a big hole, keep an eye on the new guys, led by sophomores D.J. Knox and Keyante Green. Knox, a solid prospect out of Georgia who has not played collegiately, impressed coaches this spring and rushed for 41 yards and a touchdown Saturday. Green, who provides a bigger body, churned for 63 yards in the scrimmage. And freshman Markell Jones, a standout prep back from Columbus, Indiana, enjoyed a solid spring.
"I think people are going to be surprised with how good our running backs really are," Kugler said last week.
Hazell wants to go at least three deep in the offensive backfield.
Can Purdue find enough skill on the outside to win battles?
Sure, the strength of the Boilermakers in 2015 comes at spots like linebacker and offensive line, but Purdue likely can’t make a giant leap off the Big Ten doormat until its receivers and defensive backs match well against league competition.
This spring offered only a few hints as top receiver Danny Anthrop (knee) and cornerback Frankie Williams (foot) sat out to continue rehab. If they’re ready to play at top form in September, Purdue immediately gets a big boost. Receivers DeAngelo Yancey, Bilal Marshall, Trae Hart, Cameron Posey and newcomer Anthony Mahoungou strengthened their chemistry this spring with the quarterbacks.
Youth must continue to develop in the secondary.