"We're not good enough to miss that stuff"
In a typical July/August, the B1G media days are like a appetizer for the tantalizing main course that is nearly upon us...In a normal year, we've been hungry...starving even...as we've patiently awaited our table to become available. But honestly, this year, the in-shell peanuts have been enough to make me just OK with waiting; Last year's food poisoning at my favorite restaurant has left me less-than-stoked about what lies ahead this fall. Lousy restaurant analogies aside, I'm not that excited or hungry for Purdue football...and am hoping that watching my Boilers bash the (WMU) Broncos in late August will awaken me from this funk.
I've been watching and listening to the interviews by players and coaches alike during the media days...not much sticks out. Hazell's answers aren't quite as confident as last year...his tone has changed; it seems that the historically-bad outcome of last season has humbled him a bit. That said, he's far from an embarrassment at the podium. In fact, he's still great to listen to. But, he has some caution in his tone and rhetoric. He probably sees things as I do right now- if you don't win in a month, there's nothing positive about hollow words now.
He talked about how the team has changed its mentality and the preparation looks better. The players are bigger and stronger- their numbers in the gym quantifiably tell the story...guys look the part a bit more...you can even see that if you see players walking around campus. That's all good stuff. The question is will it translate into wins this season? I'm not so sure.
Senior Sean Robinson is a different guy than he was when he entered the Purdue football team. He was a slightly-built QB with a bit of a baby face and a slight sidearm delivery. Now the way he throws doesn't matter...the way he hits does. He's filled out, confident in front of the media and looks a few years older than in his early 20s. The last few years have forced him to change a few things...and transitioning to a new coaching staff and getting injured a few times along the way have made the rest of the changes come about. He seems like a really good guy...a coach on the field...a hard worker and a bit of an emblem of poor recruiting to the LB position by the previous staff.
He eluded to the fact that he's not as athletic as a few of the true freshman...and is only a shade bigger than them in spite four extra off-seasons of workouts and nutrition. He'll play a lot this year...he'll bust his ass to make plays...and he'll be a solid tackler. But he'll struggle in pass coverage as fast RBs out of the backfield and athletic TEs challenge his lateral movement. Many Purdue fans will complain about Robinson...like they did about Holland before him; I won't. This guy isn't why Purdue is looking up at the bottom of the league. These types of players are squeezing everything out of their bodies that they can...and they're on the field in spite of their deficiencies; the coaches have no choice but to keep them on the field.
Purdue's not alone in having LBs that aren't world beaters...Even Urban Meyer promised that his LB corps won't be a bunch of try-hard guys anymore and they'll get back to playing that position the way aOSU fans are used to...Uh-oh. I didn't think of the Bucks as a bunch of overachieving Johnny Can-dos last season...but they're driven to get better...Every team is. And there lies the rub- This conference, in spite of what EsPN might tell you, is a mother.
Outside of Illinois and Beckman; every coach in the B1G kind of demands respect in his own way. Beckman seems to be a sideshow of entertainment. Aw-schucks goofy while behind the podium and grasping at straws of positivity, "We weren't good last year...but everybody returns accept our four-year starting QB!*" was his mantra. I wasn't inspired or impressed. I was inspired by NW's Fitz when he was in front of the crowd...and I'm sure J was swoon when Dantonio stepped to the mic. There are lots of good coaches and tons more talented players in the Big Ten.
I still am inspired and impressed by Darrell Hazell's general demeanor...and the fact that he really wasn't blowing a ton of smoke yesterday. But it made for kind of a boring media day from a Purdue fan's perspective. The only real surprise he gave me was that he said at this time last summer, coaches couldn't just call plays and have QBs run plays. None of Purdue's QBs knew the offense well-enough to do the job. This year, he says it's different. I think many of you believe that Coach Shoop draws up plays in the dust with bottle caps and pebbles...and most of the time yells those plays out to the defense as well; I don't think that's true (I'll look into it in the next week for confirmation though). Regardless of the effectiveness, no one understood the offensive playbook last season...so obviously, no one had the ability to check out of the wrong play (which might have happened quite often last season)...and surely no one could change protection schemes...which was absolutely needed.
When asked about the difference in the team this off-season, Sean Robinson said voluntary practices and workouts have been all but full...because the team understands "We're not good enough to miss that stuff." I like hearing that...and think we all know that the 2013 group surely wasn't good enough to take a day off...same should go for 2014 until they prove other wise.
Raheem Mostert showed the hand that Coach Hazell hasn't been willing to do when speaking about the QB battle. Hazell says the decision of who will be the starter won't be made until next week's practice commences. Mostert sounded like it was clearly Etling's job to lose. He said he gets over mistakes quicker than he did last season and has a confidence that the rest of the offense feeds off of.
He continued (as he tried to back peddle a bit) that all three of the QBs (Etling, Applby and Blough...in an intentional order) all can throw accurate balls. What he didn't say is what I was thinking- NO ONE can throw while running for their lives...very few any way. And sadly, I don't see any of these three guys as a Manziel or Brett Favre type of QB.
Last season, Shoop and Hazell tried to make Rob Henry into that guy...it didn't work. Purdue's trouble in the trench (check that; trenches on both sides of the ball) was too glaring to overcome. There is a ton of work to be done before these Boilers can reach one of Hazell's simple goals for this season: just to compete in each game.
Ryan Russell, another representative of the team at the media days said technique has been a focus in the off-season...Another aspect of the team that Hazell is confident in its improvement. Russell said the front three- specifically Phillips and himself at DE, both understand their roles and their technique more than they did a year ago. Add in a large and talented (but inconsistent in '13) nose in Howard, and the front three looks respectable, suddenly. But, as I talked about before, the front three will lean heavily on a young group of LBs to make a difference immediately versus some good teams. Coming from the depths, improvement will be easy; winning be be difficult.
Russell, Mostert, Robinson and Hazell all looked sharp and sounded good on the first media day in Chicago...that's a good thing.
And Hazell is particular with details- all four men wore the block P lapel pin on the left side of their suit coats. I noticed this last season- Purdue's head coach seems to lean toward the traditional P and away from the motion P that's been the standard within the athletic program for nearly 20 years. Just spit-balling- but I wonder if this new-old P will be on on one of the three helmets that Purdue wears this season? It really doesn't matter, but Purdue hasn't had a block P on the helmet ever (not in any photos that I've seen anyway). If his system starts taking hold and the program claws back into the upper echelon of the conference, I think we'll see lots of changes. I hope we have a chance to see (and possibly complain about) an overhaul like that.
Hazell looks like a badass in a suit and seems to command a ton more of respect in a large room than his predecessor. But he knows that being in good shape and speaking well isn't why he has a $2mil/yr contract. Ya gotta win games.