Purdue finished the 2011 season with a 7-6 record by winning three of its last four games, including a 37-32 victory over Western Michigan in the Little Caesars Bowl. That bowl game was the programs first since 2007 and the first in the four seasons head coach Danny Hope has been at the helm.
The Boilermakers return six starters on each side of the ball from that team, which leaves plenty of holes to fill. I talked to Gold & Black Illustrated publisher Alan Karpick for great insight into what will be the 2012 version of Purdue Football. Karpick is a Purdue alum who has covered the Boilers for the last 16 years.
The Boilermakers have a total of eight quarterbacks on the roster heading into 2012. The two with the experience are senior Caleb TerBush and Robert Marve. They combined for 2,508 passing yards with 17 touchdowns and 11 interceptions last year. TerBush was the starter in all 13 games, but Marve saw action in 10 of them.
TerBush came out of spring camp at the top of the QB depth chart, but Marve is not far behind.
“A lot of people are wondering how that’s going to play out long term,” Karpick said of the situation. “Everybody kind of assumes that Marve is going to take over TerBush, but it just hasn’t happened. He hasn’t beat him out. Danny Hope has talked a lot about playing a two quarterback system, and I think he may play three.”
The third quarterback would be Rob Henry, who looked like he had the starting spot locked-up heading into last season before suffering a torn ACL in August.
“Henry’s definitely more of a poor man’s Tim Tebow,” Karpick analogized. “He is an athlete. Not necessarily physical like Tebow, just a very athletic guy. Not necessarily a thrower, but much more of a dual threat (compared to) what TerBush is.”
Henry’s skill set has some saying he could call the signals in a Wildcat offense, but Karpick says he can do a little of everything.
“He could be a running back, could be a slot receiver, could be a defensive back. Who knows? He’s kind of the wildcard of where they go this year.”
While there is a lot of experience at the quarterback position, there are big holes to fill nearly everywhere else on the offensive side of the ball for the Boilermakers. To start with, center Rick Schmeig is the only proven starter back at his position on the offensive line.
“The biggest question mark is gonna be offensive line and just to see how that molds together or comes together,” Karpick said of a line that will have four players in new roles in 2012.
Trevor Foy, who started at right tackle last year, moves to the left to guard the blind side for whichever Boilermaker quarterback is behind Schmeig. Both guard spots and right tackle will be manned by new personnel this fall.
“Peters Drey, who has been a starter has a back issue,” said Karpick of one of the line’s problems going into the fall. “Whether he is going to be full speed is critical. That’s the big key is those guys get healthy and are they able to play at a high level, because it’s not great analysis that it’s hard to score if your line’s not efficient.”
The Boilermakers finished 33rd in the nation in rushing offense last year while averaging 181.6 yards a game. They could have their top two running backs in the backfield this season, but then again, they may have just one of them back.
Ralph Bolden led Purdue with 674 net yards and six touchdowns last fall, but he missed the bowl game and all of the spring after suffering the third ACL tear of his career.
“He’s hoping to be back, but I don’t know,” Karpick said of Bolden’s possibility to return to the gridiron in 2012.”That’s a real question mark.”
If Bolden is not able to return Purdue has Akeem Shavers, who was their second-leading rusher last season with 519 net yards and six touchdowns of his own. He was also named the Little Caesars Bowl MVP. Raheem Mostert and Akeem Hunt, who will both be sophomores this fall, are options at running back as well.
As if the possibility of being without their top back isn’t enough, the Boilermakers may also be without receiver Antavian Edison as well – although for an entirely different reason.
“He’s got some off the field issues,” Karpick said of the receiver who had 44 catches for 584 yards and tied a team high with three touchdowns in 2011. “He’s dealing with a weapons charge, although maybe it sounds worse than it is, in Florida. They expect him back, but that’s a problem.”
Edison was arrested earlier this month in his hometown of Ft. Meyers, Fla. He allegedly had a loaded .38 caliber revolver in his car along with several rounds of ammunition in the back seat of the vehicle.
Another receiver, O.J. Ross, was suspended indefinitely before the bowl game for academic reasons. He practiced with the team during spring drills and is expected to be back on the field this fall. Ross was Purdue’s third leading receiver last year with 33 receptions for 356 yards and three touchdowns.
The defensive side of the ball welcomes back a player who was suspended prior to the Little Caesars Bowl as well. Dwayne Beckford was suspended for a DUI arrest, but like Ross was also recently reinstated to the team.
Beckford was the Boilermaker’s second leading tackler in 2011with 91 total tackles. He is awaiting a June trial for his arrest, which also included leaving the scene of an accident.
The biggest news for Purdue on the defensive side of the ball though is a new defensive coordinator. Tim Tibesar comes to West Lafayette after three seasons in the Canadian Football League with the Montreal Alouttes. He spent the three years prior to that at Kansas State University.
“There’s a lot of talk here about a three-man front scheme,” Karpick said of the move from a 4-3 front that Tibesar brings with him. “Through camp they kind of worked with both. It’s going to be interesting to see what they bring. They have three new defensive coaches this year, so it’s definitely going to be a new look defense.”
Tibesar was Montreal’s defensive coordinator last season after working as the linebacker coach for two years. His Alouttes were the CFL’s best run defense last year while allowing 92.4 yards a game on the ground.
“I think they’re trying to fundamentally be a little more aggressive,” Karpick said of how Tibesar might impact Purdue’s defensive philosophy. “Last year after the graduation of Ryan Kerrigan I think Purdue was last or near the bottom of the Big Ten in sacks. They need to get pressure on the passer, and I think this guy’s gonna try to do some things to try to be able to build more of an aggressive defense.”
One person who will help the Boilermakers along those lines is defensive lineman Kawann Short. The 310 pound junior returned for his senior season after he was tabbed as a potential third round pick in this year’s NFL Draft. He is already projected as a late first round pick for the 2013 draft.
Tibesar will need a lot of production from Short, because the linebacking corps behind him is thin with the loss of Joe Holland, who led the Boilermakers with 94 tackles and 10.5 tackles for loss a year ago.
“The defense, if it can out scheme some folks, could be good. Yet there are some real questions at the linebacking corps.”
Purdue’s strength on defense is its cornerbacks. Junior Ricardo Allen and Josh Johnson are both back to lead the secondary in 2012.
“They’re deemed certainly upper level and some would say as good as anybody in the Big Ten,” Karpick evaluated of the corner tandem. “Certainly in that upper echelon of Big Ten corners.”
Allen had 81 tackles with three interceptions, while Johnson recorded 64 tackles with two picks in 2011.
Defensive end Ryan Russell is a player who Karpick says was one of the top surprises during spring football. Russell recorded 33 tackles with one sack as a freshman last year.
“He’s a guy they expected to become maybe Purdue’s next top defensive end,” Karpick said of the Carrolton, Texas product. “Purdue’s had its share of them over the last few years. He’s a guys that’s gonna have to make a big step. I think he did a little bit of that in the spring. If Purdue’s going to be successful he’s going to have to lead the way and become a consistent player.”
Ultimately, Karpick sees Purdue’s run defense as the biggest question the Boilermakers have heading into 2012.
“Can they consistently stop the run against good teams,” Karpick questioned aloud. “Not just Notre Dame, but can they stop people running the football when they have to? Everybody puts up yardage in passing and you have to be able to be able to manage that, but ultimately can teams beat Purdue at the point of attack?”