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August 1, 2012

Countdown to Camp: Biggest questions

Leading up to Saturday's start of training camp, GoldandBlack.com will take an in-depth look at key areas of Purdue's football team.

Though this would seem to be Danny Hope's best team as Purdue's head coach, there still are some areas of concern.

Will the defense be better?
Last season, Purdue ranked in the bottom half of the Big Ten in most major statistical categories on defense. The Boilermakers are hoping that'll change under new coordinator Tim Tibesar.

The unit must create more turnovers - its eight interceptions were the fewest Purdue has had in a season since 2004.

The unit must get more pressure on the quarterback - its 22 sacks were the team's fewest since 1995.

The unit must eliminate big plays - opponents' 395.9 yards-per-game were the most against Purdue since 2006.

An aggressive, attacking defense that can mix up alignments and coverages, a potentially stout defensive line and ball-hawking secondary and a focus on better pursuit angles and tackling could remedy those areas.

Will the QB competition turn into controversy?
Even last season when Robert Marve wasn't healthy and Rob Henry wasn't available, there was plenty of chatter about the quarterback rotation and personnel.

And Caleb TerBush ultimately started every game in a 7-6 season.

But unless TerBush is flawless in 2012, it'd seem the talk will only increase about playing time.

If TerBush falters and Marve or Henry has success, how will players keep their emotions in check and handle the likely constant barrage of questions during the season without getting distracted?

Each has talked about how he is friends with the other. But they'll all competitors who want to prove their worth. It expects to be an interesting dynamic.

Will a consistent playmaker emerge on offense?
Antavian Edison is a proven receiver, making several huge catches for the Boilermakers last season. No doubt he's the go-to guy, and his ability to come out of the slot and take some carries helps.

But who else do the Boilermakers have to count on for big plays?

Of the 32 plays that gained at least 25 yards last season, 11 of those were by Justin Siller and Ralph Bolden. Coming off a third knee surgery, Bolden's ability to return to big-time threat this season could be tough.

Akeem Shavers and Akeem Hunt showed glimpses of some big-play ability from the backfield, combining for seven plays of at least 25 yards last season.

O.J. Ross could be a long-ball threat, but he'll need to keep his academics in order to remain an option on the field. He caught three passes of at least 25 yards last year. So did Gary Bush, two of those coming in the bowl.

Perhaps Raheem Mostert will be able to showcase his skill and speed from the slot that he did on kickoffs returns.

Maybe, too, it's the tight end position that surges to the forefront in 2012. Crosby Wright may be the team's most sure-handed receiver, coaches can't stop talking about Gabe Holmes' potential and newcomer Carlos Carvajal offers more size at 6-foot-7 than any other receiving option.

Purdue likes spreading the ball around and having options, especially in the short passing game. TerBush said he likes seeing a two-yard pass turn into a 40-yard gain. But it'd be nice, too, for a single player to emerge as another true, consistent threat alongside Edison.

How will the offensive line jell?
This could be the question of camp and for the season.

It's not a stretch to say the performance of the entire offense depends on just how quickly and how well the starting five come together up front. Figuring out just who is in that group is first up, and those decisions will need to happen quickly.

Especially considering the most important spot up front, left tackle, is open. Right now, it'd seem both of those options are converted defensive linemen, Justin Kitchens and Kevin Pamphile.

Last season, Purdue allowed a Hope-era high 29 sacks, and Hope said a point of emphasis is solidifying the line to give the quarterbacks a better chance to make plays. He wants the passing efficiency to rise, and to help that, the line needs to hold up.

How well will a freshman kicker adjust?
In the last two seasons, Purdue scored 102 points on field goals - that's 17 percent of its point total, the highest two-year percentage in at least the last decade.

Perhaps an offense with some experience at the quarterback spot will be better-equipped to score more touchdowns, and the Boilermakers won't need to count as much as their kicker.

Still, it'll be interesting to see how Paul Griggs, assuming he's the one to get the job, will respond to the challenge.




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