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July 29, 2013

Countdown to camp: Position battles

On Saturday, Purdue opens its first training camp under Coach Darrell Hazell.

Practices will be open for fans to attend.

Here are some of the top positions battles to watch:

This will be the debate over camp's first two weeks, the likely amount of time Hazell and offensive coordinator John Shoop will wait to name a starter.

We've broken down this race ad naseum, but here's a quick primer:

Fifth-year senior Rob Henry, true freshman Danny Etling and redshirt freshman Austin Appleby are the top 3 choices and the only likely options at this point.

Most expect the true race to be between Henry and Etling, though Appleby isn't quite out of it yet. He's a big, strong-armed, heady player who could emerge again with a great first two weeks. But could he make enough strides to pass both players? Seems unlikely.

Henry surprised coaches with his passing ability and accuracy in spring ball - they'd heard, and assumed, that he was more of a running QB. Etling rose up the depth chart quickly because of his intelligence and physical skills - he has a great zip on the ball and he's a big guy who is willing to stay in the pocket in tight quarters to deliver strikes.

Shoop is quick to say the most talented quarterback is not always best quarterback, though.

A couple of factors to consider, then: There isn't much experience at the skill positions around the QB, so who can make plays better if something breaks down, and Purdue's schedule is an absolute nightmare through the season's first eight weeks.

The projected starters here are easy because they've all started - Will Lucas on the weakside, Joe Gilliam in the middle and Sean Robinson on the strongside.

But none of them are all-conference-type players, and there are some youngsters who could emerge to bump one or more of those players out of the lineup.

Despite being short - he's generously listed at 6 foot - Andy Garcia is someone who could challenge Lucas on the outside. Coaches love Garcia's bulldog mentality and his smaller frame can still pack a punch. Lucas, after all, is only listed at 5-11. Lucas' issue always has been an inability to follow through on assignments. So if he gets that shored up, he could hold the spot. If not, Garcia's willingness to fly around and make plays could get him more PT.

Gilliam also made strides in the spring after his first season as a starter, but redshirt freshman Jimmy Herman showed some encouraging signs, too, after moving from outside to middle linebacker. Herman admittedly struggled at points with the shift, but he's 6-foot-4 and worked to add weight and muscle over the offseason. If he can enter camp in the 220-range - Gilliam is listed pre-camp in the high 220s - then perhaps he'll have a chance to challenge for snaps.

Not having seen any of the true freshmen, it's hard to say whether they could make a move. But it'd seem that there'd certainly be an opportunity for an aggressive player who has a high motor.

Wide receiver
Perhaps there should be just as much attention paid to starts as snaps.

Either contribution seemingly is still up for, uh, grabs in camp.

Other than Dolapo Macarthy, who may still be rehabbing from an offseason injury, there are few predetermined options at receiver.

B.J. Knauf, Shane Mikesky and Charles Torwudzo may be the most likely to get the bulk of snaps, but that's only because the coaches have yet to see Danny Anthrop in team situations or even much of top statistical returning receiver Gary Bush, who was limited in some practices and meetings because of a class conflict in the spring.

And where will Raheem Mostert fit? He has the speed and the moves to make big plays, but he hasn't caught a pass yet in a game. He talked about how much more comfortable he was in Shoop's system, but he also didn't really stand out in spring ball.

If freshmen Dan Monteroso, Myles Norwood and DeAngelo Yancey had productive offseasons learning the playbook and studying film, there's a chance they could get snaps in Week 1, too. But did they?

Finding productive receivers may not be as intriguing as picking a starting quarterback, but it certainly will be interesting to see who emerges among a large group that doesn't have much experience.

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