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August 2, 2012

Countdown to Camp: Reasons for optimism

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.

Confidence seems at a Danny Hope Era high for Purdue's players, who feel like they have a chance to compete for the Leaders Division championship in 2012.

Part of that stems from the way the 2011 season, with a bowl victory, and the momentum gained from a solid spring and summer.

But there are some more tangible reasons for the Boilermakers' optimism.

Defensive tackles
Had there be another solid option to start opposite Ryan Russell, defensive line, not just tackles, would have made this list.

But when you look at the talent, experience and depth in the middle, few would question it's the strength of the team.

Kawann Short already was one of the league's best players, but now he's transformed into a better-conditioned athlete. And that could help accomplish his goal of being a consistent - not just occasional - dominant player.

Hope thinks Bruce Gaston can emerge as another of the league's best players inside, based on Gaston's girth and strength to hold up against big offensive linemen. But when Gaston was nursing a back injury last season, it was Brandon Taylor who got the bulk of the starts alongside Short. Coaches like his versatility to play both nose and three technique, a shade off center.

Ryan Isaac, coming off a knee injury, is another option in the middle, though Hope said to give Purdue some bulk on the edge, Isaac could play some end, too.

Michael Rouse III worked some with the first-team unit in the spring while other players were rehabbing injuries, and he used his redshirt year to change his body, eliminating the baby fat and adding muscle and strength.

Quarterback depth
Some may debate on whether considering playing three quarterbacks is the right choice, but few could argue that the Boilermakers have interesting, experienced options.

Caleb TerBush made huge strides from his first career start in the season opener in 2011 to leading Purdue to a bowl victory in December, and he's now to a point in which he understands the offense well enough to call his own plays instead of relying on quarterback coach Gary Nord signaling in from the sideline.

Robert Marve is loaded with skill from the athleticism to escape the pocket and make plays with his feet or use his powerful right arm to thread throws into tight spaces.

Rob Henry may be the most intriguing choice with his speed and ability to be a threat at multiple positions, and he's said to be healthy after knee surgery.

Ricardo Allen and Josh Johnson are multi-year starters whom Hope considers one of the best tandem in the Big Ten.

But there appears to be some depth here, too, with Normondo Harris, Frankie Williams and touted freshman Anthony Brown. That'd seem to lend itself to Purdue being better-equipped to handle spread offenses by putting an extra defensive back or two on the field.

But if they don't, Allen and Johnson have proven they are capable.

Allen gets the publicity for being a playmaker - he has three interceptions returned for touchdowns. But Johnson, the boundary corner, prides himself on being aggressive in press coverage. He had nine pass breakups last season, a team high.

Nebraska and Michigan State aren't on the schedule and five of the first six games are at home, including two of the potentially most important Big Ten games.

The Boilermakers start league play with Michigan on Oct. 6 and Wisconsin the following week. The Wolverines are expected to compete for the Legends Division title, and the Badgers are the favorite in the Leaders Division.

Purdue lost to both teams by a combined 98-31 last season in back-to-back road games.

Perhaps having home field will help change those results and doing that would seem to give the Boilermakers a head of steam for the final six games, four of which are on the road.

Copyright, Boilers, Inc. 2012. All Rights Reserved. Reproducing or using editorial or graphical content, in whole or in part, without permission, is strictly prohibited. E-mail GoldandBlack.com/Boilers, Inc.

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