April 2, 2012

Tight ends deep, experienced

A year ago, Purdue's tight ends might have been the Boilermakers' most inexperienced position, with none of their top players having seen more than a couple significant snaps in their careers.

Perhaps the opposite can be said now, as Purdue returns Crosby Wright, Gabe Holmes, Justin Sinz and Sterling Carter, plus gets highly touted freshman Carlos Carvajal, who's on campus now for spring practice.

"Going into the season last year, we hadn't had a lot of game experience at tight end," said Wright, a former walk-on who started eight games last season. "But the work that we had put in the previous spring and what we had learned from the previous tight ends made us feel like we were prepared to go.

"But now, we've had that experience, we've done well in games and I think that will give us more confidence going into next year."

Purdue would like to rely more heavily on its tight ends in the 2012 season. When Gary Nord become the Boilermakers' offensive coordinator in '09, with the start of the Danny Hope Era, he talked much about the importance of tight ends in his offense.

And that was the case the first couple seasons, mainly with Kyle Adams in '09 and '10. But when he, Jeff Lindsay and Jeff Panfil graduated following the latter season, it left the Boilers with a dearth of experience.

In 2011, the Boilermaker tight ends accumulated only 30 receptions, with Wright's 16 for 223 yards and two touchdowns leading the way.

Wright, now a senior and potential team captain, says his group would like to develop into one that opponents need to scheme again.

"That's the ultimate goal," he said. "We basically do whatever is asked of us, whether that's blocking the major of the game or running routes and catching a lot of balls. Our motto is to make the plays that are available to us, so if we have an opportunity to make a play in the passing game we can't let it slip. We'd definitely like to pick up the production, but we'll do whatever we're asked to."

In Wright and Holmes, the Boilermakers could potentially have a very good combination, with the strengths of each playing well of each other.

Wright, a 6-foot-3, 248-pounder, been a good combo tight end, a very stout blocker at the line who's also proven to be an above-average receiver. The 6-5, 247-pound Holmes, a junior, has athleticism to burn, and he probably hasn't shown all of that yet.

Last season, Holmes was slowed by a knee injury suffered early in the season, and although he missed only a couple games, he was never really 100-percent. He played with the knee braced and taped up, but after minor postseason surgery, which has kept him out of contact drills this spring, he hopes to be ready for 2012.

Holmes showed flashes last season, like when he had a pair of catches for 25 yards, including an athletic snatch-and-grab of a pass over the middle for a touchdown vs. Iowa late in the year. He wants more of that.

"I'm looking forward to just going out there without any restrictions and just playing," said Holmes, who had 11 receptions for 133 yards and the TD last year.

Purdue's experience at tight end might help make up for a lack of its on the perimeter, where the Boilermakers have only three wide receivers who have played significantly.

With Holmes ability to line up off the line - and Wright's as well - the Boilers could use a lot of multiple tight end sets.

"I feel like we all can make plays," Holmes said. "So if you put three of us on the field at the same time, we'd be three weapons, with the receivers. It would be a hard for a team to match up with us."

Wright says he's looking forward to seeing what the tight ends can offer, now that they have the experience to execute.

"I think everybody in the room can play right now," Wright said. "Everybody has a lot of ability and understands the offense well; I think there's a lot of talent in that room."

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