LISTEN: Danny Hope after practice
A year ago, Purdue's deepest position might have been running back, where it had eight non-quarterbacks get at least 16 carries.
It'd like to be able to have depth in the backfield once again, although with the injury to Ralph Bolden, the graduation of the starting fullback and a transfer of another, that might be harder to do.
Much will depend on the progress of young running backs Akeem Hunt and Doug Gentry, who are expected to back up starter Akeem Shavers.
"I think both of those guys are going to help us win next year," Coach Danny Hope said after practice on Wednesday evening.
Hunt, Hope says, may have been the biggest surprise of the 2010 season, when he rushed for 287 yards on only 33 carries, averaging almost nine per tote. The 5-foot-9, 175-pounder says he's a more comfortable player now, because he's adjusted to the speed of the game at this level, plus he's been able to spend an entire offseason in the weight room.
The sophomore also sprinted during the outdoor track season, and was successful.
"It went well; I got faster," he said. "And I thought I was going to lose weight, but I came out actually having gained three pounds. It was good."
That speed has given Hunt an advantage on the field, Hope said. During this spring, the fourth-year coach says Hunt proven more than once to be a homerun threat.
"He's had several plays out here this spring where he's taken the ball the distance," Hope said, "and we have a fast back half on defense. If you can get out and out run (them), then you're a big play-maker, and that's what I think Akeem is."
Gentry's quantity isn't as well known. The 6-foot, 190-pounder redshirted last season, but earned rave reviews for his performances during practice, when as the scout team back he went against Purdue's No. 1 defense.
He says it was a source of pride, both trying to get better himself and show the coaches what he's got.
"I wanted to go out there and work hard, just to give the defense a look and also to make myself better," he said, "and I wanted the coaches to look at me, so they knew when it was my time to get in."
Purdue would like to find more depth. Bolden is rehabbing from a torn ACL and is questionable to be 100-percent by the start of the season. The same could be said for Brandon Cottom, a fullback prospect who tore his ACL on special teams midseason.
But at the top, the Boilermakers seem to be in good hands, with the two Akeems and Gentry, along with receivers Antavian Edison and Raheem Mostert, who had carries out of the backfield last season.
"We still feel like we have a good crew," Hunt said.
Purdue will hold its annual "steak and beans" scrimmage Friday, with the winner eating the meat and the losers getting the other.
Hope said the Boilers will go No. 1 offense vs. No. 1 defense, and 2s vs. 2s.
"We're going to go best against best when you put something on the line like that," he said. "I don't want an asterisk next to the guys who are eating beans.
"We didn't tackle out here today for a reason. If we would have tackled today, we might have gotten a couple guys nicked up. And we're really thin depth-wise. We have some guys who are just getting a million reps out here, and congratulations to those guys for getting that good work. But if we would have tackled today, we might have had two or three guys who couldn't go in the scrimmage on Friday and that's an important scrimmage."
Monday, Hope mentioned Sean Robinson was running with the first team at middle linebacker.
It's quite the rise for the former quarterback. But Robinson's rise is due also to injuries and more to those in front of him. Dwayne Beckford is suspended; Antwon Higgs has the flu and Mike Lee is experiencing concussion-like symptoms from a hit in practice.
"Any more, with the emphasis on concussion management, when you get a guy with symptoms, they could be out a while," Hope said. "… Mike was doing a good job, but they're holding him out right now. It's a good opportunity for Sean Robinson."
Monday, Hope said as many as 15 players were not participating fully right now due to injury.
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