Thursday, November 06, 2008

Questions abound for defending champs

We stand on the brink of the dawn of the new college football season.

But some Purdue fans won't even recognize their own team.

"It's kind of like the beginning of Major League," Coach Matt Adams admits. "I can almost see those groundskeepers standing around saying how (expletive) this team looks."

Adams is referring to the massive turnover concerning several key positions. Quarterback Curtis Painter, who finished third in the Heisman race, graduated.

Running back Kory Sheets is gone. His backup is gone.

Wide receivers Brandon Whittington, Greg Orton, and Desmond Tardy are gone.

The only returning starter among running backs is fullback Frank Halliburton. While Halliburton was terrific last season, he's no Kory Sheets. Senior tight end Kyle Adams returns as well.

"I think that's why we pressed in some games toward the end of the year," Adams said. "I made some decisions, some risky decisions on going for it on fourth down because I knew the opportunity wouldn't last until next season. We had such talent and experience...if we didn't win it last year, it would be a while. We'll get there again in the future, but last season was a special opportunity."

On the positive side, Adams recruited what some are calling the best class in the history of Purdue football.

"I knew the offseason was going to be busy," Adams said. "But it wasn't as busy as I thought it would be. We got several commitments before the season ended. That made life a lot easier. When you've got a good team and your players are playing well, kids get excited about your program. Winning is the best recruiting tool of them all."

Purdue's biggest question is what to do at quarterback. Joey Elliott returns for his final year of eligibility. The fifth year senior came through in key situations last season when Painter was hurt.

"I like Joey. He's been waiting in the wings. I'd feel like a jerk if I didn't name him the starter right away. Guess I'll have to be a jerk...I just can't hand him the job," Adams lamented.

Next on the roster is Jeff Panfil, a 6'5", 226-pound redshirt junior. He didn't play a snap at quarterback for the Boilers last season.

"The thing about Panfil...well...he has 'terrific in practice' written all over him. I don't want to rob the guy of his confidence...but I just see him cracking under the pressure."

The next likely candidate is Justin Siller. A redshirt sophomore, he's tantalized the Purdue staff with his work in the offseason.

"Elliott and Panfil, they're pocket guys," Adams said. "Siller gives us a little something different. Maybe we'll have a special package for him or something. We didn't play him much last year because he was a freshman. I think if Curtis had struggled more, we probably would have (played him more)."

At running back, sophomore Dan Dierking finds himself at the top of the depth chart. But expect freshmen Chuck Bonner and Tyson Haas to contribute as well.

"The thing we lack in the backfield is breakaway speed. We've got a bunch of pounders this year. That wasn't the case last year. All our backs are power guys. I've been impressed with Haas. That's why I stole him from Indiana," Adams said.

The coach was referring to the bitter recruiting war over Haas involving Purdue and Indiana. It looked like the Hoosiers would seal the coveted recruit, but Adams had other ideas.

"Saw a lot of film from that kid. And he comes from the rough and tumble streets of Gary, so you know he's tough. Couldn't stand to let him go to IU. Sure, we lose lots of recruits to those Cream and Crimson dandies, but this was one I wasn't going to lose."

Adams says to expect intrigue when it comes to the wide receiver position.

"I'd expect intrigue when it comes to the wide receiver position," Adams confirmed. "We've got three four-star guys coming up this season. They're learning the offense pretty quickly. We're keeping things fairly simple to start, but we'll open it up by the third or fourth game. Two of those guys are burners."

Adams referred to Anthony Kellner (Villa Rica, Ga.) and Aaron Reid (Brinkley, Ark.). Both four-star recruits show the ability to stretch the defense.

"Big-time speed from both of them. You can bet on that."

However, the undisputed "get" of the recruiting class is freshman Luke Campbell (Lancaster, S.C.). He holds every single high school receiving record in his home state.

"He's got the best hands you'll ever see," Adams boasted. "He makes the kind of catches you see every week from (Indianapolis Colts wide receiver) Reggie Wayne. He doesn't have the pure speed of the other two, but he's quick and has good acceleration."

While freshmen lead the way, two upperclassmen may also have an impact on the offense. Senior Aaron Valentine brings experience to the receiving corps. He's the only receiver on the roster with significant game experience.

"Aaron is poised for a big year," Adams said. "Haven't figured out whether to split him wide or put him in the slot, where he played last year. I'm still working on that."

Junior Waynelle Gravesande may also play a role.

"He's got one of the best names in college football. If there was an all-name team, he'd be on it," Adams said with a smile.

Of the skill positions, tight end is the most experienced. Senior Kyle Adams played in every single game last season.

"Kyle is going to be Mr. Dependable. He's going to have to be! He came through so many times last year. He could be a finalist for whatever award it is they give to tight ends in this league."

After Adams, it's nothing but freshman. Jordan Brewer is a big target at 6'6". But Adams' face lights up when he talks about redshirt freshman Arsenio Curry, a 6'5" converted wide receiver.

"We have so many freshman receivers coming in this year, I asked Curry to switch. He's a little light at 216 pounds, but he's going to be a nightmare for defenses. Think Dustin Keller. Think Jacob Tamme. Once this kid gets up to speed, he'll be a monster. He's light going into this year, and I want him to get a little bigger. But I don't want him to get too big."

The Boilermakers will hoist their National Championship banner at a rally prior to kickoff at their first game of the season. Their schedule isn't yet finalized.

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