Purdue football: 10 burning questions as the Boilermakers head into the offseason
Purdue wrapped up the end of the Jeff Brohm Era on Jan. 2, although not in the way that the Boilermakers had hoped.
LSU waxed Purdue in the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, winning 63-7 as the Boilermakers saw their season end with an 8-6 record that included a Big Ten West title and a trip to the league championship game.
New head coach Ryan Walters takes over a program that’s won 17 games in the past 2 seasons, but 1 that also has a ton of questions as it gets ready for the 2023 season. Walters, who had been the defensive coordinator at Illinois before taking the head job at Purdue, has a ton to accomplish between now and the start of spring practices, likely toward the end of next month, like filling out the rest of his coaching staff, hitting the transfer portal to fill the Boilermakers’ most immediate needs and trying to add to his 2023 recruiting class during the spring period.
Let’s take a look at Purdue’s 10 burning questions for the offseason:
1. Who fills the coaching staff?
After he was hired last month, Walters quickly moved to fill his top 2 staff positions, bringing in “Air Raid” disciple Graham Harrell to run the Boilermakers offense and Kevin Kane to help direct the defense. Harrell, a former quarterback under Mike Leach at Texas Tech, came from West Virginia, while Kane was with Walters as part of the defensive staff at Illinois. Harrell, who will also coach the quarterbacks, and Kane, who will lead the inside linebackers, have been officially introduced at Purdue.
Others have joined the group as well, although unofficially as of now: wide receivers coach Cory Patterson, secondary coach Grant O’Brien and outside linebackers coach Joe Dineen.
It leaves Walters with 5 assistant positions to fill, including some combination of offensive line, tight ends, running backs, defensive line or perhaps a cornerback-specific coach, and special teams. It’s likely that Walters will move quickly to have those positions filled, possibly within the next couple of weeks.
2. Who joins QB1?
Purdue has made 1 big splash in the transfer portal already, getting Texas transfer Hudson Card to select the Boilermakers over a host of other possibilities.
Now, the question is does Card’s decision influence other offensive players in the portal? Purdue could use more help, likely 2 more wide receivers and an offensive lineman or 2. And Walters wouldn’t turn away a tight end/H-back or a running back, because while Purdue has starters at each spot — Garrett Miller should return from injury to take over as the No. 1 tight end and Devin Mockobee would be the top running back — depth is questionable at each position. Of course, that doesn’t take into account any additional departures, which could add to the Boilermakers’ needs.
But wide receiver, where Purdue doesn’t have an obvious No. 1 target for Card, is the most pressing position of need, and perhaps having a veteran presence again in the QB room will help Walters attract high-quality transfers.
3. Who calls the defense?
Walters is very confident in his defensive play-calling abilities, as he should be considering Illinois had arguably the best defense in the country last season. But he’s hired trusted confidant Kane, who was the linebackers coach for the Fighting Illini, as his defensive coordinator, while hinting that he might be willing to turn over those play-calling duties.
Will he? We’ll see.
4. Can personnel adjust?
Walters’ defensive scheme is more of a 3-4, although it’s multiple enough that the extra linebacker can play on the line of scrimmage.
Does Purdue have the personnel to play such a style? Linebacker is certainly a gigantic question mark and 1 that needs to be addressed in the transfer portal. The Boilermakers lacked overall team speed at the position in 2022, a problem that isn’t going to solve itself. Walters needs to boost Purdue’s speed and playmaking ability at linebacker, particularly on the outside, and only then will the Boilermakers be able to better execute what the new head coach wants to accomplish.
But can Purdue go get an impact linebacker in the portal? It’s a big question.
5. Any other high school recruits?
Between Brohm’s departure to Louisville in early December and the Early Signing Period a couple weeks later, Purdue lost 7 recruits to decommitments, leaving the Boilermakers with 12 commitments who were ranked as the 13th-best (or 2nd-worst) class in the Big Ten, according to 247Sports.
What can Walters do to help buoy the class?
Maybe he can convince Kendrick Gilbert, a 4-star defensive tackle prospect from Indianapolis, and 3-star tight end George Burhenn, from Fortville, Indiana, to sign in the spring. Gilbert would be a huge get because he comes at a position where Purdue could use instant-impact players, and he seems ready to be able to play early in his collegiate career. Maybe Walters can make inroads with other unsigned players, as well.
6. Does anyone significant jump?
Purdue already lost heralded quarterback Brady Allen to the transfer portal, although there’s a chance the former 4-star recruit from southern Indiana could opt to rejoin the Boilermakers.
Purdue doesn’t want to lose any more of its solid underclassmen, particularly where it seems to have good prospects, like on the defensive line, offensive line and at wide receiver.
7. When does spring practice start?
Under Brohm, Purdue frequently started its spring practices early, jumping into the 15 sessions in late February.
Will Walters follow the same schedule? Or could the new coach decide to push spring practices back, even slightly, to give himself more time to get settled in — hiring staff, not only coaches, but the 10s of support personnel necessary to run a 21st-century program — before turning his attention to practices? It might be a good option.
8. Could Drew Brees’ role continue?
The Purdue alum and future NFL Hall of Fame quarterback was an interim assistant coach for the Boilermakers during the bowl season, helping out during practices, the game and in recruiting.
It seems unlikely his official relationship will continue in such a capacity — Brees is focused primarily on his numerous business ventures — but the Boilermaker great will stay connected in some avenue, as he’s always done. But perhaps now that he is retired from his playing career, Brees can be even more present in West Lafayette. What would that look like exactly though?
9. Can the Air Raid and Walters’ D co-exist?
Isn’t this the biggest question?
Purdue wants to continue to air the football out, as it has done during the periods of its greatest successes. But that style of offense can often put pressure on a defense, because quick scores mean less time for rest. How does Walters, who would love to keep opponents scoring in the teens, reconcile his approach? Purdue’s defenses have been at their best in the past 25 years not when they’ve limited opponents’ yardage or even scoring, but when they’ve turned foes over to gain extra possessions for the offense.
Is Walters cool with that?
10. Can Purdue beat the early projections?
Even before the coaching change, the Boilermakers knew they’d face challenges in 2023, as they’ll break in a new quarterback and a bulk of the defense, plus have a schedule that sees Ohio State and Michigan as 2 of the divisional crossover opponents.
It all gets compounded with the upheaval that comes with any turnover in staff.
As it stands right now, Purdue might be a favorite in only a handful of its games next season, if that. Can the Boilermakers beat expectations to continue their bowl streak, after they’ve qualified for the postseason in back-to-back years?