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August 21, 2013
Justin Sinz contains his excitement well.
His voice never elevates. The smiles are kept to a minimum. He manages to maturely talk about the tight end's varying roles in Purdue's offense without a hint of giddiness.
Sinz certainly could have.
There may not be a better scheme for a tight end to play than John Shoop's pro style approach that not only is reliant on double-tight end formations but also its bevy of responsibilities for that position.
And though Sinz technically is the No. 2 tight end to Gabe Holmes, the more athletic and flashy option, Sinz actually may be the best tight end on Purdue's roster.
"He's what you want in a tight end - he's got the whole package," said center Robert Kugler, who joked he wishes he'd stayed at tight end after seeing this new offense.
"He's a great a blocking tight end and he's very athletic. He can go out there and make plays, but he's tough inside and he can handle a defensive end. He's smart, too. He can handle all the different plays and the positions. He's reliable in all aspects, on the field and off the field."
A former high school quarterback, Sinz has showcased some of the best hands among the tight end group. The adjustment wasn't that tough to catching balls instead of throwing them, Sinz joked, reminding that in quarterback drills, he had to play catch.
It's taken more time, though, feeling comfortable on the other requirements of being a receiving tight end.
"I always thought I had pretty decent hands, and now that I've gotten more confident in the route-running and knowing my assignments, I try not to think about it too much and just let my natural ability take over and make the plays I should," he said.
Sinz and the rest of the tight ends will be frequent targets. They're often quick reads for the quarterback, and they've been largely reliable at making the catches to gain positive yards. Sinz likely won't be the one running deep routes - leave that to Holmes - but it's a safe bet that he could surpass his career total in catches (seven) during non-conference play.
That'll be, too, because Sinz likely will stay on the field.
Other than Patrick Bade, who is kind of the designated point-of-attack blocker on certain plays, Sinz probably is Purdue's most physical tight end.
And that's going to be key, too, in Shoop's offense.
"We're the focal point of a lot of blocks and a lot of runs are right behind us, and our blocks are crucial to the success," Sinz said. "So we have to really take ownership in that and be physical at the point of attack because any leakage or any penetration on our blocks will probably be the result of a bad play. We've worked on that and gotten a lot better since the spring, and we need to continue to work on that. But we're doing a pretty good job.
"For us, as many plays as we can get and make, that's our goal."
But he's not just steady from a production standpoint. His presence is crucial.
In Tuesday's practice, Kugler was bleeding from a cut on his left arm and the athletic trainers stopped him to wrap it. Kugler was visibly irritated, trying to rush their tape job. He simply explained it later as he doesn't want to miss any rep - even in drills.
That's exactly the kind of makeup Purdue wants and needs up front, and it's something that's noticed by teammates, even on the other side of the ball.
"You look at Kugler and I don't want to say he's undersized, but he's not someone you look at and say 'Wow' about," linebacker Sean Robinson said. "But what he has, what separates him from everybody else, is his mental approach. He's the one who's blocking five, 10 yards down the field. He takes it personal. Whoever he's going up against, every time. If he doesn't win, that's a disrespect to himself. He's just so mentally strong and he just takes it personal."
Kugler's spot and Kevin Pamphile at left tackle are the only ones that haven't been shuffling this camp.
The guard spots still may not be set.
If Devin Smith doesn't return from an MCL injury before the opener, Jason King will start at left guard, Darrell Hazell said Wednesday.
"We're hoping to get (Smith) back by Tuesday. He feels about 70 percent right now," Hazell said. "Probably going to have to split reps regardless because he won't be in as good of shape as you'd like him to be."
Trevor Foy and Jordan Roos still are battling for the right guard spot, Hazell said, though Foy has a slight edge at this point. Roos got some work with the No. 1 offense late in practice Wednesday. Regardless of who starts against Cincinnati, though, Hazell said "Roos will play for sure next Saturday."
"It's going to be a day-to-day process for him," Hazell said. "It's a medical thing. You can never tell. He's healing very well right now, but that thing has to close up before he can bang it."
Though Gilliam doesn't have loads of experience - last season was his first as a full-time starter - he is Purdue's best current option at middle linebacker. Will Lucas and Jimmy Herman have been sharing reps with the 1s since Gilliam has been out, but oftentimes the Boilermakers have had breakdowns in the middle of the field.
And that is not good.
"Losing 39 like we did, it's like taking Derek Jeter out of the lineup," defensive coordinator Greg Hudson said. "The middle is so important. When Bruce (Gaston) isn't in there and your best Mike linebacker (isn't) you have to be great, not good, you have to be great up the middle. When you pull Jeter out and a great center fielder or catcher, you've got issues. We get good up the middle, we'll be all right."
"He's just where we want him to be," Hazell said of Gaston. "We're playing that one safe. He wants to be out there, but we won't let him be out there. We have to be smart about that. You've got to get your A players to the game."
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