I had the pleasure of attending the spring game this afternoon...and this evening, I have chills because I'm a bit sunburnt...While it wasn't the prettiest-looking day, it was definitely short/T-shirt weather in West Lafayette and the overcast skies allowed enough rays through to get my wife and sister-in-law looking like lobsters by the end of the afternoon.
Granted, we're all pretty colorless in the wake of the winter...so we should have worn sunscreen. But this time last year, we were freezing our tails off and had most skin covered by jackets, hats and gloves...It was a good day for the scrimmage.
Before the game, we got to roam around the field and enjoy the fanfest atmosphere. Coaches, ex-players and current players were all there too. And this was a good chance to test how much of a Purdue dork I really am as no players were wearing jerseys and you needed to know them by their faces if you wanted to talk to them...But I am a gigantic junkie/nerd, so it worked out.
A New Year, A New Coach, A New Outlook
I had the chance to talk to about ten players...all have been with the team for at least three seasons, and I heard an overwhelming theme from them- this year has been much different. They like the communication by the new coaching staff, especially Coach Hope as he has made a conscious effort to show he cares about what's going on not only in practice, but off the field with his team as well.
Everyone, defense, offense, skilled, and uglies all seemed pleased with the new energy Hope has brought into West Lafayette as well...it's good to see.
Contrast the way Tiller handled the spring game v. the way Hope handled it today- Tiller, in a woven large-billed hat usually was a mere observer on the sidelines as the coordinators would coach the teams. Hope was literally on the field of play the entire game deep in the offensive backfield, often barking at players during dead balls.
Who knows how successful Hope will be, but regardless of the results, none of it will come from lack of trying or lack of enthusiasm, it seems. Plus, nobody, inside of the Purdue family or elsewhere is expecting a whole lot from the '09 team...so Purdue might be in a very good position to surprise a lot of people.
All that said, there are definitely some holes on this team that might be a few years away from being filled...And that was obvious this afternoon.
We all knew the wide receiver position was thin, but watching this game it was obvious. Granted, Keith Smith and Aaron Valentin both looked very solid, if not dangerous at times...but after that, I think a whole bunch of Freshman are going to be rushed into duty out of necessity. And the wide receiving corps, as a whole looked pretty slow too. The injection of speed coming in the fall will be helpful to say the least. I didn't see Gravesande on the field today, which would have helped as well...and in his place, former DB Royce Adams struggled to hold onto the ball. If he's going to see the field in the fall, he's gotta figure out how to be more consistent.
The tight ends, even with the early loss of Adams to a "tweaked" knee (according to Hope) looked surprisingly solid...Both Jeff Lindsay and Jeff Panfil caught the ball in traffic well and had some nifty runs after catch. And Panfil finally is done looking like a quarterback as he has filled out pretty well. With Adams and McKey both healthy in the fall, perhaps Holmes will be able to redshirt to bulk up? I think that'd be ideal unless he arrives ready to play right out of the box.
The easy-to-spot, best player on the field today seemed to be Ralph Bolden. He had two TDs and nearly 200 yards of offense. I really liked the way he ran all day...and he caught the ball well out of the back field too. I don't think Purdue has not had a running back with his quickness to the hole since Joey Harris. And while Bolden's not a big back by any stretch, he still seemed to finish runs strong. I also liked what I saw from Dan Dierking...so these two along with Jaycen Taylor, Frank Halliburton and Jared Crank should be able to rotate and keep fresh legs while giving defenses a bunch of different running styles to have to defend.
Joey Elliot really managed the game well and looked completely poised and under control...but both he and TerBush sailed a few passes, especially when looking down the field. That could be a problem of an experienced defensive backfield disrupting the under-experienced wide receiving corps as much as anything though.
The offensive line created a good push, especially the 1s, for the running game. They also gave Elliott and TerBush time to pass. I can only remember on sack off of the top of my head. The most note-worthy Olineman, to me, was Ken Plue- he doesn't look like the guy who came into Spring last year. He's much more lean and strong-looking. I was standing just a few feet from him and didn't know who he was until it registered how tall he is in comparison to the other linemen near him (he had no jersey on as it was pre-game). I really think this new trimmed-down Plue will be one of the best linemen in the BT this season as his footwork looked much-improved.
Gerald Gooden's name was announced quite a few times as he was causing havok by knocking passes down and disrupting the running game. Short also made some big plays...and Holland and Werner both were all over the field covering a ton of ground. And another linebacker, Dwayne Beckford's presence was easy to spot too, but not on the field of play. I saw him walking around in t-shirt before the game, and was shocked at how big and shredded he is. He looks like a football player, if nothing else.
The defensive backfield kept the under-manned receivers generally quiet and didn't seem to show a ton of different looks...nor did the rest of the defensive unit. Jason Werner told me before the game, "Don't judge this defense based on what you see today...we're gonna be vanilla, we're not showing anything...But we are going to be really good in the fall."
Judging by the personnel, I have no reason to think Mr. Werner's wrong...but like most spring games, we didn't learn a lot about this veteran unit today. There's experience, athleticism and good size in almost every position on the defensive side of the ball for Purdue next season...and some of the young guys should provide depth that has been lacking the past few seasons.
Not much to report here- Summers pounded one punt, but wasn't real consistent...and Wiggs, while hitting at least a few field goals, missed two as well. That said, he attempted some pretty long ones. The kick off team looked a bit like they were biding their time until the speedster Freshman arrive on campus. I think we didn't see the Special Teams as they will look in the fall...But Royce Adams should be a pretty solid punt returner as he's quick and decides quickly which block he will follow.
A ton of ex-Boiler football players were on the field today. While I didn't hear a ton of names that I recognized from before the Tiller era, a lot of those guys were back...Light, Colvin, Rose, Dicken, Watson, Painter, Dorsch, Stratton, Sutherland and a ton of others were all there in the relatively-new tradition of ex-players being involved in the Black/Gold game.
Chris Clopton, another ex-player who now works for Purdue was responsible for getting all of the players back on campus.
Unrelated- OMG!! The Forehead Tweets!!
If you want to Twit-Twat with Tom Crean...or his 14 year old daughter* posing as him...check this out.
*Please note, I have no idea if the Forehead has a daughter