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CHICAGO — In Chicago Wednesday morning, Joe Tiller got to talking about his secondary — a unit that's been beaten on like a piñata throughout the off-season — and seemed on the verge of saying something bold.
"I think our secondary is going to be …," Tiller said before trailing off, wary of saying something that might be held against him later.
" … better than it was in the spring," he smirked.
What Tiller was about to say was probably something along the lines of suggesting his much-maligned defensive backfield might not be as bad as people might think. And this was with the 10th-year coach knowing he might not have sophomore cornerback Brandon King, a post-spring starter who's in academic jeopardy.
Purdue lost four starter-caliber DBs from an '05 unit that struggled mightily through the front half of the season (especially), and is now relying heavily on sophomore safety Torri Williams, who didn't even play last year, and junior cornerback Aaron Lane, a walk-on who played running back last year.
So why is Tiller at least cautiously optimistic? Newcomers.
For reinforcements, Purdue signed mid-year transfer Brandon Blackmon, along with fellow junior college transfers Justin Scott, Jonte Lindsey and most recently Terrell Vinson.
From the high school ranks come cornerbacks Royce Adams and David Pender — though Pender is still awaiting admission — and safety Brandon Erwin.
Two of these newcomers have already emerged as nearly certain contributors, in one form or another.
Asked to name a couple incoming players, not just in the secondary, most likely to contribute ASAP, Tiller wasted no time naming Scott and Adams.
When asked if he expected Scott, a safety, to start this season, Tiller quickly responded, "Yup."
"When we watched tape, the only thing discouraging about Justin was that we knew he couldn't come at the semester and I wanted guys who could, so that we'd have them for spring ball," Tiller said of the 6-foot, 200-pounder from the College of the Sequoias in California. "We knew we couldn't get him (to transfer) early, but of all the (JUCO) safeties we looked at, we had him as the No. 1 safety on the board."
Count wide receiver Dorien Bryant among those who've been impressed with Scott during informal workouts this summer. Scott's been on campus most of the summer.
"He reminds me a lot of (Indianapolis Colts standout Mike) Doss. He's working on his cover skills … but he's really physical," Bryant said. "He's not the biggest guy, but he's solid, and he'll come up and hit you. If he has to play you one-on-one, he'll try to knock you down, like he doesn't want to have to cover you.
"He'll beat you up. He's not getting me," Bryant laughed, "but he'll get other people in our league."
Bryant has also been impressed with Adams.
"He's solid. He can play right now," Bryant said. "I don't see Royce redshirting."
Tiller's generally stoic and often conservative in his comments about new players, but he was giddy Wednesday when talking about the 6-foot, 180-pound Cleveland native.
"I really liked him when we recruited him and I really liked him when he came to our camp last summer," Tiller said. "I thought he had really good ball skills and burst on the ball, and he could close on a receiver. I thought, 'If we get this guy, we're going to get a real player who's going to play early for us.'"
Nothing's occurred to change that opinion.
"From what I heard from (strength coach) Jim Lathrop the other day, I like him even more," Tiller continued. "Lathrop said, 'Coach, the players are really talking about (Adams). He's the real deal. He can really cover.'
"He's been (on campus) and Lathrop said he was the one kid in the weight room every single day, and the coaches in town have said, 'Coach, we have to run Royce Adams out of here at night because he's in here watching film.' Nobody's forcing this kid to do anything, but I think he's highly motivated. He's from Glenville and I think he wants everyone to know that (Ohio State's) Teddy Ginn Jr. isn't the only player to have ever played at Glenville.
"And he's big for a corner. He's 184 pounds right, which isn't like some of these 161-pound pencil-necks we've brought in before. And he can run."
Bryant said the entire secondary — newcomers included — was highly motivated during the off-season.
"It's really exciting to see these guys working hard, getting together three or four times a week as a secondary and working on things," Bryant said. "They want to get better. They don't want to be what everyone's saying they're going to be.
"Honestly, I don't believe they're going to be."
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