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August 4, 2013
With three starters back and the fourth a former nickel back with plenty of game reps, Purdue's secondary appears in good shape for 2013.
But secondary coach Jon Heacock isn't so quick to offer praise, though the group includes four-year starter Ricardo Allen and multi-year starter Landon Feichter.
Heacock likes the talent, sure, but he also knows what group did last season. The Boilermakers allowed nearly 234 passing yards per game in 2012, ranking 10th in the Big Ten.
"What do we need to do better? Everything," Heacock said Sunday after the team's second practice of training camp. "When you look at the numbers from the past - and I don't like going there - but we have to be real. Yeah, we're all back but we're going to have to play a lot better.
"I think that's the fun part about this group. I think they're sharp enough to know how we played is critical and we've got to change and do some things better, and being back will help them do some things better."
One of the goals in camp will be to find a top eight, minimally, though Heacock would like to go 10 deep with confidence. Right now, he admits there are only "six or seven guys who really know what's happening. The other guys are still in the learning mode."
The top players right now include Allen, Frankie Williams, Normondo Harris and Antoine Lewis at cornerback, and Feichter, Taylor Richards and Anthony Brown at safety. Harris currently is part of the nickel package, though Allen will once again slide inside to actually play the nickel back this season. Lewis is the backup nickel at this point.
Heacock would like to find more depth at safety, and he's working with Evan Feichter, Kyle Marzec, Ashkan Mizani and freshman Austin Logan.
Depth is especially critical because Heacock said most, if not all, of his top players in the secondary also play special teams, and he'd rather have his players rest on defense than special teams. But in order to do that, he needs to feel comfortable with bringing guys off the sideline.
Allen thinks Lewis can be someone who can come in and make plays, especially as he becomes more disciplined.
"When it comes down to making plays in practice, he's one of the top guys who makes plays every week," Allen said. "Sometimes he goes out of line of what coach wants. Even though he made a play, sometimes it's not for him to make a play, but he's a very competitive, really natural corner. I can really see if one of us got tired, I could see him coming into the game and making plays because he did last year."
Heacock said he has an eager bunch that he can tell made progress in the offseason, but now it's up to him to fine-tune and continue to teach the players to develop a better product than in 2012.
"We have some work to do. The best news for me and our group is they're just dying to do it," Heacock said. "That makes it a lot of fun to coach. I just told them, if we practice like we practiced, you can coach them. You don't have to cheer on run here, run there, they're running the play and now it's my job to coach them to do the right things. You can tell we've had 16 practices. They've improved since we've gotten here on Day 1. I'm proud of their attitudes and their effort. The key now is to teach them what to do and that allows them to continue to play fast.
"We're still on the ground floor. I haven't looked up to the ceiling. I'm not sure there is one with this group. But we're still on the base floor and I think that's fair at this point in time. I think that's where we should be."
Purdue had better tempo - something that was stressed after it was only "average," Hazell said, on the first day - and also executed better.
"It was a really good practice," Hazell said. "I thought they played inspired. I thought they were vocal, which we need to do, we need to communicate better. They had some energy (Sunday)."
Roos, a redshirt freshman, was expected to challenge Cody Davis in camp. Davis worked with the 1s on Day 1. On Sunday, he spent much of his time as the second-team center.
Devin Smith still was working with the first-team offense at the other guard spot. It's possible redshirt freshman Jason King will make a move there this fall.
Ryan Isaac, who worked mostly with the third-team D-line on Day 1, got some snaps with the second-team defense on Sunday.
That's Hazell's plan for the next two weeks, alternating the top QB options on days or sometimes even in specific drills in order to get them close to the same amount of reps with the 1s by decision time.
Etling had at least two interceptions on Sunday, getting picked off by linebacker Johnny Thompson and Landon Feichter.
"I thought they all were a bit shaky (Saturday), but I thought it was a little bit better (Sunday)," Hazell said of his quarterbacks. "Right now, we threw the whole thing (at the QBs) and when we get closer to the game, whoever the quarterback is, we'll give him what they can handle. That's the bottom line. If there's too much, it doesn't do you any good."
With Brandon Taylor not being on the roster for 2013, that frees up a scholarship. Hazell said on Sunday the plan was to "sit on it right now."
Every person - from coaches to players to managers - will get a vote for team captains, Hazell said. He's still deciding whether to allow only seniors to be eligible or juniors and seniors. The vote will come in about three weeks.
Third-string linebacker Ruben Ibarra appeared to tweak his left knee late in practice. Second-team defensive end Jalani Phillips complained about some pain in his right foot but, after talking to a team doctor, he put the shoe back on and continued practicing.
Purdue had as many as eight players fielding punts during an early portion of practice but then had only Akeem Hunt, Raheem Mostert, Gary Bush and Williams working them later specifically with Jafar Williams.
Sunday's required reading from the "A Player's Manual" was "spiritual thoughts," Hazell said.
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