April 6, 2013

Henry solid in scrimmage

In the fall, Rob Henry was essentially a specialist, jogging from the sideline for a play or two in the Wildcat.

Or the quarterback would line up as a receiver. Or as a running back.

But Saturday, in a full-scale scrimmage in Ross-Ade Stadium a week before the spring game, Henry was a full-fledged QB, and his performance did little to diminish his standing as Purdue's No. 1. Afterward, the fifth-year senior said it was nice to be able to play entire series, even stringing a few of those together consecutively.

"Definitely," he said following the offense's 51-50 win over the defense. "Yeah, it's fun. We all had fun today. It was good to take plays for a couple series, instead of being in a Wildcat situation. So it felt good and I'm looking forward to watching the film, taking a look at the mistakes and correcting those and becoming a better quarterback."

Henry finished the morning 16-of-21 with 175 yards, with a touchdown and an interception. His TD, a 32-yarder to tight end Sterling Carter was one of his better throws, as was a 35-yard toss to Dolapo Macarthy on the game's second drive. Both showed touch and accuracy on deep throws, perhaps an element to Henry's ability that had been in question.

But Henry has said he's a better passer than three seasons ago when he last played as a full-time quarterback, starting seven games as a redshirt freshman. Back then, not only was Henry raw as a pass-thrower, but he was dealing with injury too, having to play with a severely injured finger on his throwing hand. Saturday, he was able to prove that his improvement has been significant.

"He's really impressed me," Coach Darrell Hazell said. "His leadership skills and understanding of the offense (are good) and really he can make some plays with his feet. He's done a really nice job.

"I was pleasantly surprised by how well he does throw the ball, especially when he's on the move."

But Henry's yet to solidify the job, as he battles freshman Danny Etling for time with the first-team. Hazell said those two are ahead right now of redshirt freshman Austin Appleby.

But Henry is pleased with his performance.

"The evaluation, especially with the new staff, is something we've been waiting for," he said. "We'll go in and watch the film and the coaches will evaluate it toughly - I know Coach (John) Shoop will critique us pretty hard, which is what we need - so I'm looking forward to that."

Henry's performance Saturday wasn't perfect. While he managed the offense well, and looked particularly good when throwing on the run, he had a couple snafus, too. On a flush right, he tossed an ugly pass that was intercepted by safety Taylor Richards. He also had a ball knocked free by Normondo Harris on a corner blitz; Harris also recovered the fumble.

"There's always room for improvement," he said. "The pick that I threw, I should not have thrown that. The fumble, I didn't feel the edge pressure. I was going to throw and he hit me. Those two things we can't have if we're going to be successful."

But Henry will try to build on the positives, of which there were many. Another week of spring ball remains before Saturday's Black and Gold Game. Barring a change, he'll likely enter the summer as QB1, a spot he so covets after getting a taste years ago.

He's taking it a step at a time.

"This scrimmage was good," Henry said. "It's something we needed to do and is very important from an evaluation standpoint for the coaches, and for the players as far as getting better. But the only thing that matters is Saturdays. If you come out and complete every pass in a scrimmage and then go 1-for-30 during game, the scrimmage doesn't matter. Getting better every day and being ready for Cincinnati is the main goal."

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