A big chunk of the media has Purdue as their sleeper team in the B1G- 16 returning starters, lots of speed and a few names that most fans of the B1G, if not the greater college football nation are beginning to know well...
KK Short and Ricardo Allen are guys that get a ton of respect...and even Josh Johnson and Dwayne Beckford are known by those outside of West Lafayette because of their solid play and sure tackling. And of course, Robert Marve is known because of the former blue chips unusual route to God's country.
But, if our Boilers are going to be an 8-win team (or more), it's going to take a pretty sizable effort from more than just the household names. Here are a few players that might help swing things in Coach Hope's favor this fall-
Raheem Mostert Sophomore WR
There's no doubt he's electric when returning kicks...but don't sleep on 8 on the offensive side of the ball this fall. His explosive nature and vision makes him a player with a huge upside. Much like Antavian Edison, he's good in the slot and pretty solid out of the backfield. His ability to play multiple positions will allow Bolden to heal fully before seeing the field.
Gabe Holmes Junior TE
Holmes has been hampered with injuries in both of his first two seasons on campus. Last year, he was a much better blocker so he got on the field more. I look for Holmes to pick up some of the slack left by the departure of Justin Siller. He'll be a tough assignment for most LBs. He's got great size, good speed, soft hands and runs routes well; good combo. Plus, he'll be getting pushed by some young guys who want to get on the field...competition never hurts.
Trevor Foy Junior LT
With Dennis Kelly graduating, the blindside of TerBush/Marve will be a concern. But, Foy might help us forget about Kelly, who was a three-year starter. Foy is a large human...and damned athletic for his 6'7" frame. His long arms and quick feet need to make up for his sub-300 pound frame...but make no mistake, he could be a monster in the trenches this season.
Ryan Russell Sophomore DE
Everyone saw a bit of what Russell was capable of late last season...especially in the Pizza Bowl. He's a bit taller and longer-armed than the speed rushers that have defined the Den of D-Ends over the past 15 years, but I think he'll be the next member of the elite fraternity. It doesn't hurt that Short and Gaston demand so much attention in the middle...he'll take advantage of that this season.
Jelani Phillips Sophomore LB
In the second half of the '11 season, Phillips started playing a reserve role. That might seem inconsequential, but he was one of the guys that the coaching staff simply couldn't redshirt because of how he practiced as the season progressed. With depth a HUGE concern in the LB corps, Phillips will make his presence known. He's a large LB, by Purdue's standards and will help with run support as the undersized corps will need all the aid it can muster.
Normando Harris Sophomore FS/CB
He's technically a Nickelback*, but I think the coaching staff will be hard-pressed to find a way to keep him off of the field as a starter. Look for Harris to play more Safety than last season...and be a bit of a utility DB. When he's on the field, good things happen...that's not just coincidence.
Obviously, guys like Gary Bush, Akeem Shavers, Justin Kitchens and Ryan Isaac could be on this list as well. All of these guys need to take the next step for the team to get better. The most-integral cog might be Akeem Shavers. He'll get more carries than last season with Bolden unavailable for much of the season...and he's shown that he can be a feature back.
Don't be surprised if...
Ben (formerly known as BJ) Knauf starts from game one in '12. The resemblance to Vinny Sutherland is pretty uncanny...and his career path might be as well. Sutherland started as a true Frosh...and Knauf's speed and moxy will get him on the field early. Ricardo Allen talked during the media days about Knauf's bulldog mentality in drills...and he was timed as the fastest guy on the team a few weeks ago. Now, I don't really think the times that came out via Twitter were too accurate...so I won't repeat the time...but his was blazing fast. He beat out Allen and Ross as the fastest player that day.
Anthrop has also made some noise in workouts...but I don't think both will force the hands of the coaches and not redshirt. While Purdue doesn't have a ton of experience at WR; Ross, Bush, Edison, Mostert, Thomas, Torwudzu and Mikesky will all vie for playing time and should be ahead of any Freshman...at least initially.
That said, Knauf might be needed right away as punt returner and elsewhere on Special Teams.