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Purdue football Off-Season Q&A: Justin Lovett

Now, more or less, Purdue's football team is in the hands of Justin Lovett, its director of strength and conditioning.

That's the deal for those in Lovett's position come the off-season, when those who believe that the strength coach is the second most important member of any football staff have the strongest case to make.

In the winter, spring and summer, the strength coach overseas off-season training, executes best he can the head coach's mandate in advance of the following season and acts as one of a program's most important culture-setters, essentially any program's accountability coach.

Lovett's job may be changing, though, as the raw materials do.

Now entering Year 3 at Purdue, with recruiting on the upswing, the bodies coming into the program are starting to change.

“I’m 6-1, and I’m looking up at safeties,” Lovett said, “and that’s awesome.”

As a more physically ready level of recruit starts walking through the door more and more, that inevitably requires slightly less development and slightly more optimization. That will be true of some incoming members of Purdue's highly regarded 2019 signing class, a group Lovett and his staff may need to fast-track, because there's no way around the Boilermakers needing significant contributions from young players next fall.

“We’re trending that way. When I was at another school in the SEC, we had more guys arrive, ready to roll, in that situations” said Lovett, who was on staff at Georgia for two seasons prior to working for Jeff Brohm at Western Kentucky, then Purdue. “The further along Coach Brohm gets here at Purdue and the more success we have, we might be in a situation where we have more ready-made guys coming to us as opposed to have to having to race against the clock to develop them at a fast clip.”

More from Lovett from a recent conversation ... Have you sort of laid your mandate for the off-season yet?

Lovett: “When we had a meeting when they arrived back on campus, it was pretty thick, the stain of losing to an SEC team by 49 points. While we feel it doesn’t define our season because we had some really good moments, it is something that will linger all year, and this team will feel it daily. Even the kids who didn’t play and were standing next to us on the sideline, and the kids who are early enrollees, they’ll feel that and have a nasty taste in their mouths, because we can’t let it go. We have to use it to never let it happen to us again, in the weight room, on the field, in the classroom. Accountability was a big emphasis, a massive emphasis on and off the field, doing little things right, not cutting corners. We had good kids and we still have good kids, but the mandate is to amplify the things we did great and eradicate the things that caused us problems — discipline, accountability in some cases. And accountability might just not be classes, but meals, weekly body-weight checks, whatever it might be. … We are going to be more accountable.


“Now, I’ll tell you: It’s easy to be a player on this team. It’s not difficult, in terms of (what it’s like) at some other programs. That’s why you don’t see our players, unless it’s purely for playing time, leave, because it’s wonderful to be part of. But with that being said, it’s going to be more difficult, because there’s going to be more meals, more hoops they have to jump through to make sure they’re doing the right thing than ever before. We have a young team, and they need it.” There’s really no way around Purdue having to play a good number of young players on both the offensive and defensive lines this season. Can you tailor your program in any way to accelerate the progress of young linemen?

Lovett: “We have to find a way to cultivate some get-off, synchronized, cadence-driven or movement-driven get-off. It’s got to be something we can work on in the weight room that translates to the coaches when they get them in individual drills. But get-off, first-step explosiveness, we have strong kids on both sides of the ball, so whether it’s cadence-driven or movement-driven, that has to be an element. It can’t just be first-step quickness. It has to be applicable get-off. Whatever we do with medicine balls or power clean, that’s explosiveness and that translates to your first step, but if you don’t apply it in a functional sense, then it’s two ships passing in the night. We have to do a better job integrating what we do in here and real-world application. It’s get-off. They have to get off.

“Offensive and defensive hand-fighting, we do some MMA work. We have coaches on our strength staff who played defensive line at a high level, and it’s their job to make that MMA work sing to our defensive players so it becomes sort of a language of violence. And it also helps our offensive players experience some different weapons they’re going to see … whatever they may experience, they can see how to combat that, or counter that.

“So hand violence and get-off, and that it has to be done in a way that doesn’t compromise the gains we’re trying to make in terms of mass and thickness. You’re going to have some young dudes who are going to need some mass and thickness on them, and it’s our job to make them look the part, more muscle mass and strength, but we have to weaponize these guys, and it’s about get-off and hand violence and things like that.” But they do also have to get bigger and stronger in a lot of cases, right?

Lovett: “What’s nice is, with this being our third season, our second group of kids coming in, you’re seeing more length, bigger frames coming in. That’s a wider canvass on which to paint. Otherwise, I think we can sometimes hit a ceiling of achievement in the weight room and he just is what he is. That doesn’t mean we don’t keep coaching him hard and chasing what he can be, but there’s limitations when you’re a smaller guy competing against bigger guys in this conference. Now, we’re getting some broader canvasses to work with and it’s refreshing. The future is bright for this crew.” When you get freshmen mid-year, do they get their own program or do they jump in with everybody else?

Lovett: “We do more one-on-one since they are new. We have only have (a few) coming in, and right now, our working roster is only around 60-something so it’s not like we’re at 120 year-round, so I can pull off and go work with Big George (Karlaftis) or get a look at Jalen (Graham) and do some specialized things to bridge the gap. The progressions aren’t going to slow down just because they’re here. That’s the nice thing about how we have things organized. I can pull off and get those guys one-on-one at times and that can help speed up the process, because sometimes, some of our progressions, they’re not ready for those.

“Our goal is to make sure they’re ready for spring ball, regardless of where I think they are. We have to get them ready to be able to compete for reps right away. That’s why they’re here (now), because they were told they’d have a chance to play early. Our expectation is for them to pick up whatever we’re doing relatively quickly, but also to get them ready for spring practice regardless of if we have to take a different route to get there.” How are you handling George Karlaftis?

Lovett: "My perception of George in the little time we've been around him is he's a tremendous athlete, but pretty raw. We have to refine some things and really my job would be to hold him back and not let him get into trouble with too much weight too soon. With all the young guys, and especially a guy like George, they're going to want to eat, going to want to blow through some stop signs, and he may be able to, but it just may take some time.

"But he lives in here. It's not going to be hard to find him. He's coming in in the morning before class, comes back in to fuel up, he's doing everything the right way. There was another guy who did that, and that was Rondale (Moore), and the more guys we can get to act like that, that are living around the facility ... some of our older guys saw younger guys doing that and there’s a few more of them living around the facility, getting to workouts earlier, good habits we like to see.”

Continue reading below Have you ever seen anything physically like Rondale Moore? What more can you even do with him?

Lovett: “Rondale was pretty refined when he came in here. No, I haven’t (seen anything like him), to be that compact and that clean of a mover, his high school coaches and trainers in Louisville did a tremendous job with him. He’s had some growth here, but do we think we’ll ever see 600 pounds on his back ever again? Absolutely not. There’s no reason. He’s at a level where if we can just stay around that level and work on some other things, that’s the goal.

“He got batted around like a pinball this season, so hopefully we can add some armor to prepare him for some of the mileage he’s going to receive. If we go chasing numbers just for something viral, you do the kid a disservice.

“What we do with him won’t have anything to do with weight on his back. It’s different versions of rotational explosiveness, strength, balance, and different strategies to apply his strength and power to a field setting and make him more efficient as a mover in and out of his breaks and cover more ground per stride, even if it’s a half inch, decelerating in a way that reduces the risk of injury, getting him off his heels, reducing the wear and tear just by cleaning him up a little bit. It’s more refinement.

“It’s what I’d do with an NFL guy. You’re not going to reinvent the wheel. The guy already runs a certain time. You just refine it, clean it up a little bit. There’s no ego on our part. We’re fortunate to have him, and we’re going to listen to him and help him with his goals and what he wants to achieve.”

GoldandBlack,com: When you say ‘adding armor’ …

Lovett: “It’s maybe a little mass, a little body weight helping with durability. Do we want him at 195 pounds? No. His frame wouldn’t support that at this time.

“He was durable this season, but we want to ensure it, because we don’t anticipate he’ll get less work this season. We have to prepare for him to not catch anyone by surprise. Making him a little more durable with maybe a little more body mass and a little more efficiency in and out of his breaks, it’s both.” Have you taken anything from the first two years here that tells you what’s working or maybe some things that can be improved?

Lovett: “In Year 1, when we got here, trying to run our system and learn our players, without them having a true understanding or foundation of how fast practice would be, how the schematic changes would affect them physically, because the reps, the drills, the recovery, it all was different for them. We were fairly reactive, more so than we would have liked in Year 1, and any program in America, if a new coach comes in with a new system, with players (unaccustomed) to what the vision is, you’re going to run into some issues. We may have forced some things, but we learned quickly who our team was and made some changes along the way.

“In Year 2, we didn’t have as many injuries. I think we tapped into something where we knew what we had more in our players and they adapted nicely. We adapted our systems to them, and those changes we made in terms of the speed and power and on the field, position-specific work and conditioning, those changes put these players in position to be durable. We were thin at spots all season long, but we were durable. The three linebackers, some of those guys were beat up all year, but we weren’t ready for those guys to go down and we couldn’t lose one. The fact we didn’t lose any of those guys (at most any position), I think we tapped into something.

“Now, on the flip side, we have to create more guys who are ready-made, who are in position to rotate in and be serviceable as opposed to rotating in and there being a production deficit. We’re having such high snap counts and putting ourselves at risk. We have to cultivate some depth. I haven’t really seen this sort of roster situation where we came out of it injury-wise as (clean) as we did. We’re on the right track.

“We know that if we can keep them healthy, we can make them explosive, make them run fast and have some repeatability with it, but can we take a young roster and give them the tools to compete and produce in games? That’s where the challenge lies this year. Can we give Coach Brohm some backup plans in case the production isn’t there from a schematic standpoint, or maybe a guy got dinged up, and now maybe we don’t need to keep playing him, because we have another guy physically who can stop, start, explode into another guy, then do it all over again.

“I think we have more bodies in position, if they attack and work all winter and spring and summer, I think we’re going to be in a better spot. People will talk about how young we are, but that’s our challenge.” You need your freshmen to play next season? Is there a science to getting freshmen ready?

Lovett: “It would probably be up to the individual player. Some are going to come to you more ready-made, like Rondale did, and it’s plug-and-play and your mandate from the head coach might be, ‘Don’t screw him up. I need him.’ It’s not to do anything cute that might screw him up, and Coach Brohm isn’t shy about saying that.

“Some guys are going to need a lot of work from a movement standpoint, functionally moving the right way, without his knees kissing each other on a squat, wasting distance on an inefficient stride or with a false step on his get-off and some players will come to you needing more strength and power. There are guys who may be good football players, but terrible in the weight room and that puts you at risk. We have to make him what he isn’t — efficient and good in the weight room — so we have a lower injury-risk factor.

“There’s high-end and low-end, a big spectrum across those 25 guys coming in. They’re obviously ready for football or else they wouldn’t have been recruited. It’s whether they’re ready for this level, and the repeatability of harder practices. It’s really about the individual.

“If there’s one edge we have, it’s that Coach Brohm lets us individualize things across the board, not just with high-end seniors or juniors, but if Rondale needs a little something, he’s going to get that something, to help Rondale. Or if George needs something, or Spencer Holstege, or Paul Piferi. They can get it with us, because it doesn’t compromise anything. The team knows we’re doing whatever we can to get them ready to play and it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. We feel like we have that ability to deviate because the goal is the same: To be ready to play. It doesn’t matter if they can squat whatever. They need to be ready to play.

“But when those young guys come in, they will be in a separate group, but they’ll progress out of that group. Rondale might have been in that group after three days.”

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