November 8, 2012
Rookie linemen taking steps
Jordan Roos and J.J. Prince line up on the right side of Purdue's offensive line every day in practice, but they do so in relative anonymity.
Roos, a right guard, and Prince, a right tackle, are two of five freshmen who often comprise Purdue's scout team offensive line, lining up regularly against the No. 1 defensive line. And the two may be the most likely rookies to see their names in a two-deep soon.
And soon could be as early as this spring.
"With those two guys, early in camp we had to make a decision whether we were going to play them or redshirt them," offensive line coach Shaun Clark said. "We thought it was in their best interest to redshirt them. They were in position to compete for backup spots this year, but we didn't want to take the chance to burn their redshirts for a play here or a play there. But those guys, their futures are definitely bright here at Purdue."
Both say the redshirt year has been a blessing, as they've gotten a chance to get bigger and stronger - two musts for offensive linemen early in their careers - and more acclimated to Big Ten football.
For Prince, it some ways, the learning curve hasn't been as steep. His Southlake Carroll High School team was pass-oriented, much like Purdue's, allowing him to learn how to pass protect. And he didn't have to change positions once he got to West Lafayette; Prince joked that seemingly every of the Boilers' five O-line rookies - Cameron Cerman, Joey Warburg and Jason King are the others - played right tackle in high school, but he won the chance to stay there during camp.
"I think it's important as an offensive lineman to have this redshirt year to adapt to the physicality of such a big stage as the Big Ten," the 6-foot-6, now 300-or so pounder said. "It's a huge stage compared to high school football. To get the work in the weight room to where I'm able to physically go out on the field. Right now, I'm not where I need to be strength-wise, so the redshirt is really good for me."
Still, Prince has seemingly made big process. Clark says the Texas native has a knack for correctly mistakes quickly because of a high football IQ.
"You have to be careful what you teach him because he does exactly what you tell him," Purdue's fourth-year O-line coach said. "But I like the fact that he likes to mix it up a bit in there and he's very good in the pass protection part of it.
He's tall, athletic, and with an extra year in the weight room he'll get stronger and be able to be more physical in the run game."
The opposite might be true for Roos. A 6-5, 305-pound Texan, Roos' high school team, Celina, featured a power-running offense, so getting down in a three-point stance and bulldozing ahead comes naturally. But falling back into pass protection is a little more challenging.
His injured knee set him back some, too. It was about a year ago that Roos had ACL surgery, sidelining him for all but the first four games of his senior season.
"He was rough coming to camp; that might have been a little too early, as far as playing," Clark said. "But he's a tough kid, very strong. Once he learns how to translate his weight room numbers to the football field, he'll be very good."
The freshmen have plenty of reason to stay motivated. Following the season, the Boilermakers will lose two senior offensive linemen to graduation: center Rick Schmeig and left guard Peters Drey. And redshirt freshman Robert Kugler, who has been a pleasant surprise at right guard, is likely to move into the middle.
As for the other returnees, it's safe to say that no position is cemented, considering the line has been only so-so this season.
"I wanted to play as soon as I could," Roos said of his arrival at Purdue. "It didn't work out to be playing my true freshman year, but I have another year to get my knee right. I kind of didn't feel great about my knee earlier, but it's getting a lot better and I'm going to feel pretty confident going into next season with a fully healthy knee."
Roos, an elite thrower during high school, would like to continue in his second sport during the football offseason. But that's during an important time for strength and conditioning gain, as well.
Prince says he's staying as hungry as possible, knowing his time on the field might be getting closer.
"It's been pretty easy for me (to stay motivated), because I think I'm making gains in the weight room," he said. "That's a really good sign that's motivating me. And I feel like I'm doing a little better in practice against the harder competition. All those little things are what makes it easy to be motivated as a redshirt freshman, because you know you don't have a game to look forward to, but you've got to treat every rep as a game."
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