For the next two weeks, we’ll be taking a look at where each B1G team needs to improve and answering pressing questions this offseason. For some it’s establishing depth, and for others, it’s learning a new system. Whatever it is, each team has at least five things to take care of before 2016 kicks off.
-Get help at cornerback
Purdue returns more starters than anyone in the B1G. But the place Purdue suffered the biggest hit was at cornerback. Gone to the NFL are corners Frankie Williams and Anthony Brown, both of whom were three-year starters.
Without them, Da’Wan Hunte will step into a starting spot. He’s made significant strides this offseason, so significant that Darrell Hazell dubbed him the “team’s most improved player.” That’s the good news for the Boilermakers.
The bad news is that the other starting corner spot is a major question mark. Tim Cason and Myles Norwood are both battling for that spot. Cason, who has been at the position on and off throughout his career, might have the inside track for it.
But even with two NFL guys, Purdue only finished 89th against the pass in 2015. Obviously part of that was a result of a lack of a pass rush, but there were still too many lapses against average B1G receivers. If Purdue is going to turn a corner, it has to be able to get a major boost from some new faces in the secondary.
-Find a kicker
Yes, a kicker. Purdue’s special teams last year was nothing to write home about. Paul Griggs made less than half of his kicks, and he only had two made field goals in B1G play. Purdue needs to be more consistent in the kicking game to take a little pressure off the offense.
With Griggs gone, Purdue doesn’t have another kicker on the roster. If Purdue doesn’t bring a walk-on to take the job — something Hazell didn’t do even when Griggs struggled in 2015 — it could belong to true freshman J.D. Dellinger.
Purdue would rolling the dice by having a true freshman at the position. In a year where every point could be make or break for Hazell’s future, that’s a definite gamble.
-Figure out leaders of offensive line
Hazell’s four-year plan has been riding heavily on the maturation of the offensive line. In what was supposed to be a significant improvement in 2015, the Purdue front fell short of meeting those expectations. Despite the fact that Purdue spent the majority of games from behind — and not dealing with blitz-heavy packages — Penn State was the only B1G team that allowed more sacks.
No longer does Purdue have the luxury of four-year starter Robert Kugler in the middle. But Purdue does have three starters back, along with some backups who got their fair share of snaps last year. The question is who can step up and lead this unit without Kugler? Maybe the versatile Cameron Cermin is that guy, or perhaps seniors Jason King or Jordan Roos can lead a turnaround.
Four years into the Hazell era, the offense still lacks an identity. Markell Jones is capable of making the offensive line look better than it is, but he’ll need a little help.
-Develop David Blough mentally
Like most dual-threat quarterbacks in their first year as a starter, I thought Blough struggled with the decision-making process. The choice of making a 50-50 throw or calling your own number isn’t an easy one, and that was evident with Blough during his redshirt freshman campaign.
He took too many unnecessary hits, and fittingly, his season ended on a concussion because he didn’t protect himself on a keeper. As I said with Northwestern’s Clayton Thorson, Year 2 is when that stuff is supposed to fade away.
The good news for Blough is that he has a legitimate deep threat in DeAngelo Yancey and a talented slot receiver in Cameron Posey. The loss of possession receiver Danny Anthrop will hurt, but Blough won’t lack capable targets. He showed signs of it in 2015, but he needs to continue to develop chemistry with those two if he hopes to be the rare Purdue quarterback in the Hazell era to keep his job.
Speaking of keeping his job, no coach in the B1G has a hotter seat than Hazell. He, and basically the entire Purdue coaching staff, is essentially on a one-year contract. Players should treat this offseason like they’re on one-year contracts, too.
It’s pretty cut and dry. If Purdue doesn’t get out of the B1G basement, Hazell and his newly hired staff will be out of a job. By now, nearly every player on the roster is there because Hazell or one of his assistants recruited them to be there. If there was a coaching change, the 2016 season could serve as a tryout of sorts.
Players at the Division I level shouldn’t need any extra motivation, but it’s always interesting to see how a team responds if it feels like its coach’s job is on the line. Hazell’s is. It doesn’t matter that he’s entering his fourth year of a six-year contract. A 6-30 overall record and a 2-22 mark in the B1G isn’t acceptable at a place that didn’t suffer some massive NCAA sanction.
Is it bowl or bust? Maybe. Purdue couldn’t ask for a much better schedule in a pivotal year (no Michigan, Michigan State or Ohio State and three non-conference home games).
The Boilermakers can’t win six games this summer, but they can set a tone that 2016 could finally be the step in the right direction that they so desperately need.