5 biggest storylines to watch for Purdue's spring game
Saturday ends Jeff Brohm’s 6th spring practice at Purdue.
And this season, the Boilermakers have plenty of reason for optimism, particularly coming off a 9-win fall that was capped with a victory against Tennessee in the Music City Bowl. But Purdue’s spring has been besieged by injuries, perhaps slowing down development. Will that have an effect on the 2022 season?
Let’s take a look at that and other storylines to watch when Purdue plays its spring game at noon Saturday in Ross-Ade Stadium.
A bevy of injuries
Injuries are a part of every spring, as players use the offseason to rehab and get ready for the season ahead.
It’s been more acute, however, this season, with the Boilermakers missing significant front-line players at multiple positions. At wide receiver, the Boilermakers are down 4 of their top options: Broc Thompson, Mershawn Rice, TJ Sheffield, Abdur-Rahmaan Yaseen, leaving Purdue without much experience on the perimeter. Tight ends Payne Durham and Garrett Miller have been nicked up at times since Feb. 28, when Purdue held the first of its 15 spring practices. On the offensive line, projected left tackle Eric Miller has been absent following offseason shoulder surgery and Sione Finau, a transfer from FIU who Purdue has slated as a starting guard, hasn’t taken a snap.
On defense, the secondary is a bit of a mess, particularly at cornerback, where the Boilermakers have been forced used back-up quarterbacks as DBs. Purdue has only 2 scholarship corners available: Transfers Reese Taylor (Indiana) and Bryce Hampton (Adams State). Cory Trice, Jamari Brown, Brandon Calloway, Nyles Beverly, Rickey Smith and Tee Denson, a Kansas State transfer, are out with injuries. At safety, Marvin Grant, Sanoussi Kane, Jah’von Grigsby and Jalen Graham will be sidelined, leaving Purdue with veterans Cam Allen and Christopher Jefferson.
On the line, Purdue is missing Kydran Jenkins, projected as the No. 1 Leo (hybrid end/linebacker) and tackle Lawrence Johnson.
The injury situation means a couple things: Saturday won’t present a true pictures of what the Boilermakers will be in the fall. And Purdue can ill afford to lose anyone else to a significant issue; the Boilermakers need to be getting players healthy, not the opposite.
David Bell is gone.
Jackson Anthrop is too.
And Milton Wright might be. Add in the injuries and Purdue has had to work in a lot of new faces on the perimeter, as Brohm looks to find weapons for quarterback Aidan O’Connell in the offense. One primary option now — and in the fall — will be Iowa transfer Tyrone Tracy, who could turn into a dynamic threat not only as a receiver but as a ball carrier, too. He’s taken the opportunity to flash his potential with other receiving options on the sidelines. But even when they come back, it seems impossible that Tracy won’t be a part, and maybe will be a big part, of what the Boilermakers want to do in the fall. He’s going to have the ball in his hands, whether O’Connell is throwing it to him or handing it to him.
Others have taken advantage of the absences, like Deon Burks, who could carve out a niche in the slot. Maybe underclassmen Preston Terrell or Collin Sullivan could find a home as part of a receiver rotation on the perimeter. The spring has presented a big opportunity for them.
But the significance of their playing time might come down to whether Wright, who had 57 catches last season, is eligible. He’s been only on the periphery of practice this spring as he tries to get his academics, which forced him to miss the Music City Bowl, back in order.
Brohm has spent the past few months scouring the transfer portal to look for help in Purdue’s backfield.
He hasn’t found it.
So Purdue will ride with only a couple of scholarship running backs this spring: Veteran King Doeroe and transfer Sampson James (Indiana). The Boilermakers will add a couple freshmen in the fall, but they’d like another veteran back, particularly one with a bit of speed to the perimeter. But that hasn’t been easy to lure to West Lafayette.
At least as of now, that leaves the Boilermakers with Doeroe and Sampson, each of whom can be effective between-the-tackles runners. For Sampson, his presence at Purdue marks a new opportunity after he transferred in from Bloomington during training camp last fall. Perhaps now, he can get a chance to bloom into what many thought when he was a highly sought-after 4-star prospect by 247Sports.com.
Ron English takes over as Purdue’s defensive play-caller this season, after co-coordinator Brad Lambert departed for Wake Forest during the offseason.
The change could bring adjustments to the Boilermakers’ defensive scheme, primarily in that it’s likely Purdue will shift to more of a 4-2-5 than the traditional 4-3-4. While that might seem significant, perhaps it isn’t. The third safety in the 4-2-5 is likely Graham, who was recruited to Purdue as a DB but played linebacker last season. The veteran has the ability to play in the box, like he would against run-heavy Big Ten West teams like Wisconsin or Iowa, but also can roam in the secondary.
Even without Graham on the field, we’ll see if the change is noticeable during the spring game on Saturday.
Sack the QB
Purdue’s unlikely to let O’Connell get hit on Saturday, as it’ll want to keep its prized quarterback upright.
Yet the Boilermakers need to find pass-rushers, too, as they attempt to replace All-America defensive end George Karlaftis and Leo DeMarcus Mitchell. Without Jenkins available, Purdue has gotten plenty of time to see Murray State transfer Scotty Humpich at Leo as well as veteran Jack Sullivan, who started in Karlaftis’ place during the bowl game.
Maybe freshman Joe Strickland, who is an early enrollee, can have a big game at defensive end, showing that he can have an early impact similar to Karlaftis a few years ago. Or perhaps Yanni Karlaftis, who has moved down from linebacker, can start to show he’s adjusted to putting his hand in the dirt at Leo.
Whoever it turns out to be, Purdue is going to need edge rushers in the fall.