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August 18, 2014

'Body of work' lands Etling starting job

Danny Etling's "body of work" helped him secure Purdue's starting quarterback job for the second consecutive season, coaches said Monday.

From a turnover-free spring to an incredibly productive offseason in terms of studying the Boilermakers' offense and opposing defenses to a mostly steady training camp, Etling continued to show progress after being thrown into the fire as a true freshman in 2013.

Etling had said he felt he still had something to prove this camp, despite starting seven games last season, because he didn't win a game. He answered the coaches' challenge to compete hard, and, in turn, beat out Austin Appleby, Hazell said.

"I think the biggest thing is coming out of the spring, he was a little bit ahead," Hazell said when asked why Etling was chosen.

Hazell said he saw a "much more comfortable, much more confident" Etling during camp. The sophomore showcased a better knowledge of not only Purdue's offense but in identifying defenses as well. That's largely due to the amount of time Etling spent working alongside quarterbacks coach and coordinator John Shoop in the offseason when NCAA rules allowed players to get film study in with coaches.

"There are so many things that are so hard to learn and were so hard to learn last year, but this whole offseason just getting to sit down with Coach Shoop as much as I can and him explaining everything to me (was helpful)," Etling said this summer. "Because during the season, things are moving so fast and you're just trying to game plan, game plan, game plan and put in plays. In the offseason, you can kind of take a breath and explain why we were doing everything we were doing. I've just really come a long, long way since last year of learning coverages and understanding what coverages are and why people are coming and understanding each zone has to be covered in some way and if it isn't, you can take advantage of it."

Etling said he's seeing the game faster now, and what he's seeing on the field is similar to what he's starting to see in the film room.

"I'm starting to grow more mentally as a player and I'm going to continue to keep working that," he said Monday.

Getting playing time as a rookie last season has helped Etling be better prepared for the load and pressure he'll face this season, he said.

Part of studying and better understanding defenses was to try to spot potential blitzes and then being able to adjust the protection with the O-line. Purdue allowed more sacks than any other team in the Big Ten last season, and Etling bore the brunt of most of that pressure.

He showed considerable toughness, though, never missing a snap because of injury. Even though he could have - Etling hurt his left shoulder against Illinois and played through it in the finale against Indiana.

"I think (last season) prepares you a lot to - first off - get rid of the ball," he said, smiling, "but, second off, to know what to expect, to get your body right in the weight room for the season and things like that. So it's really helped me out in the offseason.

"It'd have been tough to mature the way I have and develop my game the way I have if I hadn't gone in there and played."

Teammates have changes in Etling since the season ended.

Especially in an intangible, but incredibly important, quality for his position: As a leader.

There were points last season in the huddle when Etling wasn't enough of a presence, wasn't vocal enough, to command the authority needed at the spot. But he's working on it, and teammates have noticed.

"We've obviously seen him from where he began last year to the end of the year, then even in the offseason, we've seen him mature quite a bit and take more of a leadership role," tight end Justin Sinz said. "(The quarterback) needs to be the leader of the offense and get the best out of the people around him."

Dolapo Macarthy, who was Etling's roommate in the dorms during camp, said Etling is a quieter person who will open up once he feels more comfortable with others. Now, after spending two weeks with him, Macarthy joked, he can't get Etling to shut up. But he needs that to spread.

"We need Danny to talk up more and speak more and kind of be more assertive," Macarthy said. "That's a position that requires that. We need that from him, to step up a little bit and talk more. He hasn't been doing a bad job, but he needs to be a little more outspoken."

Etling admits he's not a "rah-rah" guy, but prefers more to lead by example. He's learning to do both. The latter, he's demonstrated consistently since his arrival, earning respect with his work ethic.

"As a leader, he looks much better and he's holding himself to a higher standard," receiver B.J. Knauf said of Etling this year compared to last. "He loves the game, he's a nut about it, and that's what you need at the quarterback position."

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