This spring was the first for Purdue under head coach Darrell Hazell. The new Boilermaker boss was hired over the winter to replace Danny Hope. Hazell came to West Lafayette after a brief stint of success at Kent State. He runs a "tight ship" according to Black and Gold Illustrated publisher Alan Karpick.
"He's very quiet," Karpick began when asked to describe Hazell. "He has kind of a military feel to him. He's very organized. He's an interesting guy in terms of commanding respect when he walks into a room. It's an interesting dynamic. He doesn't talk a lot about himself."
Purdue's off-season, according to Karpick, was much tougher and disciplined under Hazell than it was in the four seasons under Hope. Hazell is a New Jersey native who led Kent State, a longtime loser in the MAC, to an 11-3 record in 2012.
While Hazell is high on discipline and order, he also opened 13 of Purdue's 15 spring practices not only to the media, but to the public at large. The 13 practices were also open in their entirety - not for just brief segments. That is a big departure from what the majority of college football coaches allow.
The extended viewing gave those on hand the chance to see the three quarterbacks - Rob Henry, Danny Etling and Austin Appleby - who are competing for the starting job. Henry is a fifth-year senior who has the most experience of the three. Hazell did not name a starter at the conclusion of spring practice, but the battle appears to be mainly between Henry and freshman early enrollee Etling.
"Henry is a leadership guy," Karpick said of the veteran. "He is more of a Wildcat guy (with) questionable throwing. He's a skinnier Tim Tebow. He has some of the same issues (like) can he throw the football consistently."
Henry was among three Purdue quarterbacks (Robert Marve and Caleb TerBush the others) who played in at least eight games last season. He was 21-for-38 for 216 yards and three touchdowns.
"I would expect (Etling) to get a chance to play some," Karpick predicted. "Hazell has been pretty clear about not wanting to do what Danny Hope did so much of and that's play two quarterbacks. You look at last year's Notre Dame game as a classic example - he starts Caleb TerBush, puts Robert Marve in and puts TerBush back in."
"He's been pretty clear that's not his long term intent," Karpick continued. "Will there be some possibilities of that happening early on? Sure, because I think he's got to figure out exactly what he has."
Henry was 6-for-9 for 75 yards with a touchdown pass in Purdue's spring game. Etling was 5-of-7 for 54 yards, while Appleby was 6-for-18 for 52 yards and an interception in the scrimmage. Appleby, a redshirt freshman, is not out of the mix for the job either.
"He looks the part," Karpick said of Appleby. "(He has) a big NFL-type body. He throws a good ball. I'm not sure what was missing in terms of why he was maybe a little bit behind these other guys. Maybe just a little bit on accuracy - I'm not certain."
"Etling, Appleby and Henry are all cerebral guys," Karpick continued of Purdue's QB group. "They're pretty gung-ho football guys that want to learn the system. The system, under (offensive coordinator) John Shoop is complicated. I think with Appleby being a redshirt freshman and Etling being a high school senior - there's a lot to pick up. Henry may be the one that stays set, because he understands the offense."
Purdue opens its season on Aug. 31 at Cincinnati and Karpick expects Hazell to name his first starting quarterback by Aug. 15. A handful of other positions were up in the air for Purdue this spring.
Akeem Shavers, who led the Boilermakers with 871 yards and six touchdowns, is gone. That leaves Akeem Hunt as the most experience returnee.
"(He) came out and did very well," Karpick said of the 5-foot-9, 185 pound back. "He's averaged 8.0 yards a carry in his first two years. He's been kind of a scat back-type guy. The big question is if he's an every down back. He's tried to gain a little weight. He's a very fast guy. Running back is certainly going to be a big question."
Hunt ran for 134 yards on 19 carries during Purdue's spring game. He had a 15-yard touchdown run as well.
O.J. Ross is indefinitely suspended and the ranks are thin for the Boilermakers. Dolapo McCarthy, who had a pair of receptions for 24 yards against Notre Dame last season, is a top option.
"He's a guy who has kind of stood out from the rest," Karpick said. "He only has 18 receptions though coming in. There's just not a wealth of experience."
Tight end is a question mark as well. Karpick says senior Gabe Holmes is someone who needs to produce there.
"(He has) a million dollar body (but) just hasn't emerged yet," said Karpick. "He looks the part and did some good things in the spring, but it's going to be a big question of how they move the football."
Holmes, a Miramar, Fla product, is listed at 6-foot-5 and 247 pounds.
Karpick says there are "a lot" of question marks on the defensive side of the ball, especially at linebacker. They also lost nose guard Kawaan Short, who was the No. 44 overall NFL Draft pick last week.
Karpick did not sound overly optimistic for a successful first season for Hazell and Purdue in the upcoming season. Wisconsin, Nebraska, Michigan State, and Ohio State are among the top Big Ten teams the Boilermakers will face in 2013. There is still a great deal of excitement surrounding Hazell though.
"The fan base is energized by him," Karpick said. "He did what he did at Kent State (guiding the Golden Flashes to their first bowl in 40 years). He looks the part and acts the part. He's gotten a lot of respect on the front end. I think people feel like he can coach, because he did the job at Kent State."
"In Purdue's sphere he might be able to be in position to get back to recruiting effectively against (teams like) Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Michigan State. I think Purdue could argue it was (recruiting effectively against them) in the heyday under Joe Tiller."