Purdue hit the reset button this offseason, and no Big Ten football program needed it more.
The Boilermakers endured 3 1/2 mediocre seasons from Darrell Hazell before letting him go at the midway point of the 2016 season, bringing in Jeff Brohm to replace him. Brohm led Western Kentucky to three bowl games in his three seasons in charge of the Hilltoppers.
He was the first big hire for new athletic director Mike Bobinski, who had been on the job for just a few months before filling the vacancy. Brohm was one of the bigger names on the market during the offseason, in part because his Hilltopper teams never seemed to have a problem moving the football and finding the end zone.
“I think we do want to play an exciting brand of football,” Brohm said at the Big Ten’s media days. “We do want to have some fun with it and try to score points.”
He may find that a tougher go at Purdue, at least in 2017.
Purdue’s biggest question marks on offense concern the passing game. Quarterback David Blough moved the ball well last year but suffered from untimely turnovers and countless hits. He entered the final weeks of camp battling with Elijah Sindelar to retain the starting spot. The receiving corps lacks depth, and Brohm’s still looking to see if he has the necessary playmakers to stretch opposing defenses.
Things aren’t all bad. The backfield, for example, has some intriguing players led by Markell Jones, Tario Fuller and D.J. Knox. The first-team defense impressed in preseason, and Danny Ezechukwu could be one of the breakout players of the Big Ten at linebacker.
Of course, Brohm inherited several talent gaps on the roster, so he emphasized the graduate transfer market once he arrived, adding several experienced players to the roster.
Offensive linemen Shane Evans and Dave Steinmetz, defensive backs Josh Okonye and T.J. McCollum, kicker Spencer Evans and wide receiver Corey Holmes all could see the starting lineup in September. Brohm also mined the junior college ranks for defensive end Kai Higgins, wide receivers Isaac Zico and Terry Wright, offensive lineman Ethan Smart, defensive tackle Raymond Ellis and safety T.J. Jallow.
Brohm doesn’t start 2017 with great expectations, part of why he got a six-year contract to turn the program around. Whether that happens in year one depends largely on how well the younger players grasp the new system, and how much of an impact the first-year veterans on the Boilermakers can make right away.
MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER: QB David Blough — Jeff Brohm is going to try to bring the electric offense from Western Kentucky to Purdue. For that to happen, the Boilermaker quarterback — likely Blough to start the season — will have to be strong in the pocket and run the offense effectively. Blough wasn’t great at standing in the pocket last season, and it was the same story during the first August scrimmage. Brohm will need Blough to take a major step forward in 2017.
BREAKOUT STAR: LB Danny Ezechukwu — The Boilermakers have a strong linebacker corps, with Ja’Whaun Bentley and Markus Bailey leading the stat sheet. But Ezechukwu was the standout of the summer and could be poised for an All-Big Ten season if he can stay healthy.
NEWCOMER TO WATCH: WR Isaac Zico — Notre Dame transfer Corey Holmes is the biggest name among the new receivers, but he got banged up early in camp. Terry Wright, a junior college transfer like Zico, was reportedly the fastest man in summer workouts. But it was Zico who impressed the most in early workouts and the initial August scrimmage. He’s a good bet to start the season opener against Louisville and could quickly emerge as one of David Blough’s favorite targets.
–WR Corey Holmes was expected to make an instant impact after transferring from Notre Dame. However, the graduate student injured his hamstring early in camp, hampering his quest to begin the season in the starting lineup.
–K Spencer Evans transferred into the program in late July and is immediately eligible. Purdue’s kicking game was atrocious in 2016, and Evans’ big leg means he’ll be the kickoff specialist for certain, while challenging J.D. Dellinger for place-kicking duties.
–Purdue hosts Minnesota on October 7th.
Copyright © 2017
TTWN Media Networks Inc.