Big Ten: Trevor Foy

Purdue embraces underdog role

December, 27, 2012
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If any team can play the "nobody-believed-in-us" card this bowl season, it's Purdue.

The Boilermakers are the biggest underdog in the 35 bowls, according to the oddsmakers, in their matchup against Oklahoma State in the Jan. 1 Heart of Dallas Bowl. It's the kind of thing players say they don't pay attention to, except that they do.

"I don't really look at that stuff," senior defensive tackle Kawann Short told ESPN.com. "But a lot of people around here have told me that the spread is highest in the bowls. So it's on us to go out there and make a statement. We feel like we can play with any team in the nation right now."

People are understandably low on the Boilermakers, who had to win their final three games just to finish 6-6. Even that wasn't enough to save the job of head coach Danny Hope, who was fired one day after the regular-season finale. Receivers coach Patrick Higgins is coaching the bowl game before turning the program over to Darrell Hazell.

Purdue also got blasted in some big games this year, losing 44-13 to Michigan, 38-14 to Wisconsin, 44-28 to Minnesota and 34-9 to Penn State. No wonder, then, that Oklahoma State is a big favorite with an offense that averages 44.7 points per game.

[+] EnlargeKawann Short
AP Photo/Michael ConroyKawann Short's versatility could make him too attractive for NFL teams to pass up in the draft's first round.
But there are a couple of reasons to maybe believe in the Boilers. They only lost by a field goal on the road to Notre Dame, now the nation's No. 1 team, in September. And they had undefeated Ohio State on the ropes in Columbus before the Buckeyes made a miracle comeback in the final minute and won in overtime. So this team has some experience rising to the occasion.

And Purdue has something going for it now that was absent during its five-game losing streak in the middle of the season: health on the defensive line. That unit was expected to be one of the best in the Big Ten but didn't play like it when several key members of the group were banged up in midseason.

"Kawann and Bruce Gaston are two of the best defensive tackles in the Big Ten; I'd still argue that," said defensive end Ryan Russell, who was a member of the walking wounded. "As a whole, the D-line prided ourselves on having lot of depth this year, and when those injuries happened, there wasn't as much depth. So I'm glad we finally got an opportunity to rest, heal up and show what we're really about."

Short, an all-Big Ten performer and potential first-round pick next April, dealt with a high ankle sprain in the middle of the year. By the Minnesota game, he said, he was "not even 80 percent." He battled through it though and said quarterback Robert Marve -- who played on a torn anterior cruciate ligament without undergoing surgery -- jokingly gave him a hard time whenever Short tried to complain about his ankle.

Short regained his effectiveness toward the end of the season, and with a month off to heal expects to be fully healthy for the bowl game. He was dominant against Notre Dame and is a difference-making force inside when right.

"I'm very excited that a lot of people are back and healthy," Short said. "We're going out there with a chip on our shoulder. Things didn't go our way this season, but right now I feel like we can bring a lot of stuff to the table."

Purdue's best chance of slowing down the Cowboys' spread offense -- which gained nearly 550 yards per game this season, fifth-best in the country -- is probably to disrupt its timing right at the line of scrimmage.

"You have to get lined up and know your assignments quick and fast," Russell said. "They definitely have a lot of weapons. It's about matching their pace and enforcing your will, instead of going with the flow and letting them do what they love to do."

And while Oklahoma State has a prolific offense, the Cowboys went just 7-5 and lost their last two games of the regular season. Purdue players don't quite see why they're being painted as giant underdogs to an opponent whose best victories came against Texas Tech and Iowa State.

"People are not respecting us very much," offensive lineman Trevor Foy said. "I'm looking forward to taking advantage of that, because I know they're going to look over us and we're going to come after them."

And if the Boilermakers do pull off the upset, they can correctly make the "nobody-believed-in-us" claim.

Purdue deals with transition game

December, 12, 2012
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Purdue interim coach Patrick Higgins has given his players some unusual assignments before they start their bowl practices.

Higgins has asked every member of the team to answer a few questions such as: What is the most important thing in your life? What things do you want to do before you die? What do you want on your tombstone? What's your favorite animal? Players had to answer in front of the whole team, as well as make some drawings.

"At first it seemed kind of kiddie," offensive lineman Trevor Foy told ESPN.com. "But when everyone is going up there, all the players and even the coaches, it's really cool."

[+] EnlargeTrevor Foy
AP Photo/David DurochikTrevor Foy (78) and the Boilermakers will play for Patrick Higgins before new head coach Darrell Hazell takes over.
This may seem like an odd time of year for such get-to-know-you tactics. But it might be just what the Boilermakers need after a tumultuous few weeks.

Head coach Danny Hope was fired on Nov. 25, one day after Purdue finished a 6-6 regular season. Higgins was named the interim coach for the team's Heart of Dallas Bowl game matchup against Oklahoma State. Higgins had been the Boilers' wide receivers coach, but he took over play-calling duties for the final three games when offensive coordinator Gary Nord was sidelined by a back injury. The school tabbed Darrell Hazell as its next head coach last week, but because Hazell will coach Kent State in its bowl game, he has only briefly met with his future players.

With all of that transition, a little team bonding seems like a good idea.

"Everyone handle stress differently, so it's great to come together on common ground and get to know each other a little better," defensive end Ryan Russell told ESPN.com. "We can't control what happened to the coaches, but this is about us and about the seniors. So it's great to put the focus back on the players a little bit when the media and everybody else has been taking it out of our hands."

Purdue has already shown the ability to rally together and block out the turmoil. The Boilers were 3-6 after losing to Penn State 34-9 at home on Nov. 3, their fifth straight loss. Rumors of Hope's firing were swirling, and except for a crushing overtime defeat at Ohio State, every loss had come by at least 16 points.

This hardly looked like a bowl team at that time. Yet it won its final three games, at Iowa, at Illinois and in the finale at home against rival Indiana, to clinch a postseason bid for the second straight year.

"It was all about us, the coaches and the players," Foy said. "You can't listen to the media and fans. We had to tune all that out and realize we're here for each other. That was basically the attitude we took, from the [Penn State] game on."

Russell said the players were hopeful that winning those final three games would save Hope's job. Those who had been recruited by Hope, like Russell and Foy, were hurt when it did not.

Now they'll gear up to play for Higgins, who hadn't interacted closely with many members of the team as receivers coach. But he earned respect by serving as offensive coordinator for those final three victories.

"That really made it easy for guys to accept him," Foy said. "Coach Higgins is real positive guy. He does a good job of keeping everybody together and focused."

In a few weeks, Hazell will take over the program. He introduced himself to the players before last week's introductory news conference but has been splitting his time between coaching Kent State and recruiting for Purdue. Russell said he researched what Hazell did at Kent State and watched that news conference and came away impressed.

"He's saying all the right things and you can definitely see the determination in his eyes," Russell said. "I'm ready to start a new era, and I'm going to help battle with him. With no head coach, you kind of feel like you failed. So to have someone step in and believe in you and say he wants to be captain of the ship, that's definitely a great feeling."

Having three head coaches and two offensive coordinators in a short amount of time has taken Purdue on an emotional ride. Maybe coming together and getting to know each other a little better can make that journey more enjoyable.
It's time to jump back into our preseason position rankings with a look at the offensive line units.

On Friday, we ranked the top individual players at the position. These unit rankings reflect star power as well as depth. We're heavily weighing these on last year's performance, along with potential for the 2012 season.

Away we go:

1. Wisconsin: Sure, the Badgers lost two All-Americans (Kevin Zeitler and Peter Konz) from last year's line. But they've earned the benefit of the doubt for their ability to reload up front. Left tackle Ricky Wagner is an Outland Trophy candidate, and center Travis Frederick should be one of the best in the Big Ten. The key will be how the new-look right side with Rob Havenstein and likely Robert Burge moving into starting roles.

[+] EnlargeTaylor Lewan
Andrew Weber/US Presswire With top tackle Taylor Lewan returning, Michigan fields one of the best offensive lines in the Big Ten.
2. Michigan: The Wolverines might have the top tackle in the league with junior Taylor Lewan, and guard Patrick Omameh is a three-year starter. Senior Ricky Barnum is taking over for David Molk at center. Michael Schofield should be solid at right tackle, though the left guard spot remains a competition. It should be a strong starting group, though depth here is a major concern.

3. Michigan State: This could be the best offensive line Mark Dantonio has had in East Lansing. Six players who started games last year are back, and there will be depth and competition at several spots. Third-year starter Chris McDonald is one of the league's top guards, while tackles Dan France and Fou Fonoti are dependable.

4. Nebraska: The Cornhuskers lost three starters from last year's line, but much like Wisconsin, this is a group that usually reloads. Guards Spencer Long and Seung Hoon Choi provide nice building blocks, with Tyler Moore, Jeremiah Sirles and Andrew Rodriguez solidifying the tackle spots. The big question here is center and who will replace Mike Caputo.

5. Ohio State: The Buckeyes had their problems up front last year and now are implementing a new offensive system. Urban Meyer wasn't happy with the group's work ethic in January but felt much better about them by the end of spring. Jack Mewhort replaces Mike Adams at left tackle, while Andrew Norwell and Marcus Hall try to live up their potential at guard. Corey Linsley earned Meyer's praise for his work at center. Keep an eye on the right tackle spot, where former tight end Reid Fragel is now the first-stringer. But true freshman Taylor Decker is pushing him.

6. Purdue: Injuries kept the Boilers from building much cohesion this spring, but this can be a sturdy group when healthy. Three starters are back, with Trevor Foy moving from right to left tackle. This is an experienced bunch, but Danny Hope wants to see more dominance. Senior center Rick Schmeig should be a leader

7. Iowa: The Hawkeyes must replace three starters, including NFL draft picks Reilly Reiff and Adam Gettis. But Iowa usually fields good offensive lines, and hopes are high for this year's edition. The leader is center James Ferentz, who now will be coached by his older brother, Brian Ferentz. Much will depend on how players like Brett Van Sloten and Brandon Scherff develop.

8. Northwestern: The Wildcats lost two valuable starters in tackle Al Netter and Ben Burkett but return three-year starter Brian Mulroe at guard and promising sophomore center Brandon Vitabile. There should be good depth up front, but can the Wildcats generate a consistent rushing attack?

9. Penn State: The good news is that the Nittany Lions played better than expected last year on the offensive line. The bad news is four starters are gone, not to mention some potential transfers in the wake of the NCAA sanctions. There is still talent here, including guard John Urschel and tackle Donovan Smith. But the least experienced line in the league will have to learn a new offensive system.

10. Illinois: There was little excuse for the Illini O-line to play as bad as it did last year with standout players Jeff Allen and Graham Pocic in the mix. Pocic is back this year at center, though he might take some snaps at tackle as well. Young players like sophomore Simon Cvijanovic and redshirt freshman Ted Karras will need to come on. This unit should be improved, but it ranks low based on last year's finish.

11. Minnesota: Jerry Kill shuffled this group last year and played a lot of youngsters. It's still a relatively inexperienced unit, but there is hope for improvement. Junior left tackle Ed Olson has the best chance to be a star.

12. Indiana: Center Will Matte is one of the most experienced linemen in the league. But beyond him are several young players, including three true sophomores who started as freshmen last year. There's nowhere to go but up.

Purdue spring wrap

May, 11, 2012
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2011 record: 7-6
2011 conference record: 4-4 (third place, Leaders Division) Returning starters: Offense: 9; Defense: 9; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners
DT Kawann Short, CB Ricardo Allen, QB Caleb TerBush, QB Robert Marve, QB Rob Henry, RB Akeem Shavers, RB Ralph Bolden, DE Ryan Russell, WR Antavian Edison, DT Bruce Gaston, OT Trevor Foy

Key losses
LB Joe Holland, S Albert Evans, LT Dennis Kelly, OG Nick Mondek, WR Justin Siller, K Carson Wiggs

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Ralph Bolden* (674 yards)
Passing: Caleb TerBush (1,905 yards)
Receiving: Antavian Edison* (584 yards) Tackles: Joe Holland (94) Sacks: Kawann Short* (6.5) Interceptions: Ricardo Allen* (3)

Spring answers

1. Healthy QBs: After two years of dealing with injuries and inexperienced signalcallers, Danny Hope finally had enviable depth at the position this spring. With Robert Marve healthy, last season's starter Caleb TerBush a year wiser, and Rob Henry on the mend from a torn ACL, Purdue has three former starters at quarterback. Hope said the depth made for much improved offensive execution this spring, which should carry over into the fall. Now he just has to figure out whom to play and when, as it's likely more than one will see the field in the same game.

2. Defensive front and back set: The Boilermakers have a chance to be very good up front defensively, and it all starts with defensive tackle Kawann Short. He passed up the NFL draft, and could work his way into first-round status with a big senior season. Bruce Gaston returns along side him in the middle, and sophomore defensive end Ryan Russell looks like a future star after coming on strong at the end of last season. The secondary is also in great shape, with returning cornerbacks Ricardo Allen and Josh Johnson possibly forming the best tandem in the league, according to Hope. Nickel back Normondo Harris had a big spring game, and Max Charlot returns at safety. Purdue should have the ability to generate a pass-rush and defend the ball in the air.

3. More confidence: There's little doubt that there's more confidence in the air around West Lafayette. That comes from the team making -- and winning -- its first bowl game under Hope last season, and returning 18 offensive and defensive starters. This is Hope's deepest team, and it should be his best. Some are picking Purdue as a potential Big Ten sleeper, and the players believe that talk is justified.

Fall questions

1. Linebacker Who? While the defense looks stout up front and in the secondary, questions remain at linebacker. Joe Holland, the team's leading tackler a year ago, graduated. Dwayne Beckford missed the bowl game after a DUI arrest, and his status for the fall remains in flux. Will Lucas is the only returning starter guaranteed to suit up in September. There's talk of using some 3-4 looks under new defensive coordinator Tim Tibesar, who implemented his system in practices closed to the media this spring. Does Purdue have enough linebackers to make it work?

2. Offensive line chemistry: The Boilers' offensive line didn't get a lot of hype last season, but it produced two NFL draft picks in Dennis Kelly and Nick Mondek. Trevor Foy is moving from right to left tackle, and Kevin Pamphile and Rick Schmeig worked at multiple positions this spring. Purdue will mix in some new faces and some veterans in new places this fall, and how well that unit comes together will have a large say in how the offense flows.

3. X-factors on offense: Some things we simply don't yet know include the following: Can Ralph Bolden successfully return from knee surgery? If not, is Akeem Shavers a capable every-down back? What will happen to leading receiver Antavian Edison after his arrest on weapons charges this week? Will fellow wideout O.J. Ross make it back from academic suspension? Can kick returning dynamo Raheem Mostert make an impact at receiver? Purdue has a lot more options on offense than in the recent past, but there also remains a lot of question marks.
We're back to continue our series looking at the most indispensable players on each Big Ten team. Once again, this is not necessarily a listing of the best players on each team, but ones whose absence would be toughest to absorb because of their particular value or because of a lack of depth behind them.

We're selecting two players from each team, usually on offense and defense, but not always. Today we turn our gaze to Purdue, which thankfully no longer has to worry about one quarterback going down and throwing everything into turmoil.

Kawann Short, DT, Sr.

This one is an easy call, as Short has the potential to be the top defensive tackle in the Big Ten this season and is being projected as a first-round NFL draft pick in 2013. The Boilermakers should be pretty good on the defensive line this season, and Bruce Gaston is another returning starter at tackle. But few teams could adequately replace a talent like Short, who compiled 17 tackles for loss a season ago.

Trevor Foy, OT, Jr.

Here's a much less obvious pick. Purdue is blessed with some decent depth on the offensive side, with three quarterbacks who have started games, a stable of running backs and several options at receiver. One place where there is not a lot of experienced depth, however, is the offensive line. Two starters, including left tackle Dennis Kelly, were drafted last month. Foy is hardly a household name, but is a player with a lot of potential. After starting at right tackle last year, he is expected to take over Kelly's spot this season, and at 6-foot-7 and 287 pounds, he looks the part. Danny Hope would have to do some major shuffling on the offensive line if Foy weren't available. For an offense that otherwise appears ready to have a strong season, that would be a rough development.
Purdue is getting a little bit of a buzz as a sleeper team for 2012 after breaking through with a bowl game (and win) in 2011. The Boilermakers opened spring practice last week and went for a couple of days straight before taking off for spring break. I had a chance to catch up with Purdue head coach Danny Hope to talk about how things are going in his program and the areas of concentration this spring.

Did you sense any different attitude this offseason after getting to that bowl game last year?

[+] EnlargeDanny Hope
Andrew Weber/US PresswireCoach Danny Hope said the momentum from boilermakers' bowl win last season has carried over into the spring.
Danny Hope: I think we ended the season on a high note and with some momentum, and I think it carried over into the offseason. I think we're really hitting on all cylinders with our new director of sports performance, whom we hired last year about this time. It's the first time since I've been the head coach at Purdue that we're going into spring with a quarterback that's healthy that's played any football. Caleb TerBush wasn't penciled in as the No. 1 [quarterback], but he became No. 1 about a week before the opener. He had to get his feet wet and learn throughout the course of the season, but by the end of the season he was playing pretty good. That momentum carried right over into the bowl preparation and the win carried right into the weight training offseason and that carried into spring practices. And having experienced quarterbacks is important. It's the first time since I've been here we've been able to do something as simple as getting signals in early in spring. It's a little different tempo out there right now as a result. We've got some good players back and we've got some confidence as a football team.

You have quite a few experienced quarterbacks now, in fact. How are you splitting up the reps for them this spring?

DH: Well, Sean Robinson is playing on defense right now. It's hard to get four quarterbacks ready in spring ball, and he wasn't going to get as many reps as he needed to. So we're going to try him some at the linebacker position. That leaves TerBush and Robert Marve, who's finally healthy. I think Robert did some good things last year, but I think he's in position to take some big steps in his development because this is the first time since he's been here that he's been able to get a lot of reps without concern about an injury or an eligibility situation. Then Rob Henry is back. He's a little bit limited right now because he's coming off knee surgery, but I'm really pleased with where his recovery is, and most of the time when he's out there right now you can't tell much of a difference. But you have to limit his reps a little just because you don't want to overdo it and create a swelling issue. So the numbers are kind of taking care of themselves in some ways. We went into the spring with TerBush as No. 1 and all those other guys are competing.

Your leading rusher, Ralph Bolden, tore his ACL again, but you have two pretty good running backs in Akeem Shavers and Akeem Hunt. How do you feel about the depth at running back this spring?

DH: We had a real strong running attack last year. We were fifth in the Big Ten in rushing. The past couple of years, we've been able to establish a strong running game. I like the progress that we've made and having good running backs is a big part of that, and any more, having a couple of running backs you can play is a big part of it. We had a lot of different guys rush for us last year, probably 10 different guys who were utilized as ball carriers. We really like Akeem Shavers. He's a fast, physical back who finishes runs. Akeem Hunt is an excellent sprinter who's a member of our track team and was a state champion track performer in Georgia. So he's a class sprinter in a lot of ways for a football player.

We've also got a kid we redshirted last year in Doug Gentry, and he's a skilled player. We have Gavin Roberts, who has good size but was injured last year. He's a big back we can utilize in the backfield. Then we've got a couple fullbacks in Derek Jackson, who weighs about 240 pounds, and Kurt Freytag. So we've got some guys still in the stable even though Ralph is out. And we've utilized Antavian Edison and Raheem Mostert some as ball carriers out of their slot position, and both those guys are really skilled players. So we've got some athletes who can tote the mail, and we spread the wealth out around here.

Were you upset about the new kickoff rules because you have such a weapon at kick returner in Raheem Mostert?

DH: Well, we all play by the same rules. You'll have to make decisions about bringing some out, so the return man is going to have to be a good decision-maker. From a kickoff standpoint it might change some things. You can kick them all deep and try to force the touchback if you want to, but you're going to be giving the opponent the ball at the 25. Or you can kick the ball high and deep and try to pin them down and do a great job covering. So there's going to be some game planning and schemes involved. I think it will all even out. ... I don't think it's going to shut down all kick returns, but I think there will be about 25 percent less, is my guess.

(Read full post)

Big shoes to fill: Purdue

February, 22, 2012
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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

[+] EnlargeDennis Kelly
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesDennis 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.

Big Ten lunch links

October, 27, 2011
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Gettin' linky with it.
Robert Marve's new coaches and teammates at Purdue insist he's a changed man. They vouch for his character as an improved student, a good teammate and a willing leader, and they say they've seen his transformation take shape during the past 10 months.

For those still unconvinced, Marve offered up an interesting display Friday at his first meeting with reporters this spring. Rather than answer questions by himself, the quarterback chose to be surrounded by members of Purdue's offensive line, a group that will play a huge role in his success or failure in 2010.

The (Lafayette) Journal and Courier's Mike Carmin has a detailed account of the unusual interview session with the Miami transfer, considered the front-runner to win Purdue's starting quarterback job.

When asked about the health of his knee after tearing his ACL last spring, Marve replied like this:
"I tore my ACL. You tore your ACL," Marve said, looking at converted tackle Colton McKey. "My knee feels good. Anybody else have knee problems? The whole offensive line. I'm good, we're all good."

OK ...

When asked about the quarterback competition this spring, Marve answered:
"Like I said, these boys make it easy," Marve said of the linemen. "As long as Brew's [Andrew Brewer] got it, I got it. As long as [Rick] Schmeig's got it, I got it. Trevor [Foy], the whole nine yards. We're going to have fun. Like I said, we all came to Purdue for a winning season. I feel like we have a great chance to win the Rose Bowl."

There's no mystery to what Marve tried to do Friday: show that he's a team guy and share the spotlight with others, especially players who don't get much of it. Which is fine for now. Head coach Danny Hope seemed to enjoy the approach, saying, "I'm not surprised to see him sharing his first interview with his teammates. That was great."

Sure, it comes across a little forced, and it shouldn't become a habit. But by all accounts, Marve has made a concerted effort to clean up his act at Purdue, and he's succeeding.

A time will come when Marve needs to face the media on his own. That's what all quarterbacks do. And barring a surprise, he'll be the starter in 2010. As Carmin writes, Marve "will likely become the face of the program."

Soon enough, the face must stand alone.

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