Needing immediate help in its secondary, Purdue looked to the junior college ranks to give its defensive backfield a fresh coat of paint.
Thus far, however, the results have been mixed, largely due to injury.
Free safety Justin Scott ran with the starting defense virtually from Day 1 in training camp, but then hurt his hamstring and missed a couple practices. He's been behind true freshman Brandon Erwin on the depth chart ever since.
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"When I hurt my hamstring, I set me back a little bit with my speed and being able to run," said Scott, who of all the JUCO DBs clearly had the best chance to start. "It's good now, though. All the tightness has come out of it and it feels great now.
"I'm learning pretty well now. Everything's starting to gel together."
The player with the second best chance to start coming in was probably cornerback Jonte Lindsey, who made numerous plays early in training camp and showed "the best feet of anybody in the secondary," according to Coach Joe Tiller. But alas, he sprained his shoulder and missed about a week of practice.
Lindsey finally came out of purple Thursday.
"I still like Lindsey," Tiller said. "Even though he can redshirt, I'd like for us to not redshirt him. We'd like to play him because he has good feet and a pretty good understanding of what we're doing. He just needs to get back on the field getting some reps."
Needless to say, there's no replacing that lost practice time.
"It hurts you," Tiller said. "(Missing training camp time) hurts you more than (missing practice) during the season."
Speaking of lost time …
Terrell Vinson, a J.C. cornerback added in the summer, saw a great deal of second-team work in training camp as coaches mixed and matched lineups regularly, but now Vinson's sidelined due to a wacky mix-up with the NCAA's eligibility clearinghouse and has yet to be cleared to practice, though he did go through all of training camp.
"We have to re-submit the papers, because (the clearinghouse) can't find the papers," Tiller said. "I don't know how long it'll be. They said they'd FedEx them overnight."
The issue is between the clearinghouse and Vinson's junior college, Saddleback College in California, with Purdue — and Vinson — caught in the middle.
Vinson might even be a rubber-stamp case for the clearinghouse, thus making the delay all the more frustrating.
"He's been accepted to Purdue," Tiller said, "and history has told us in the past that Purdue's tougher than the clearinghouse is. I think if we can just get his paperwork there, we'll be fine.
"He's got to get back in the mix, because he's a 2-for-2 guy. It's not like because of this delay we can redshirt him."
(On another clearinghouse-related note, freshman cornerback David Pender has been fully cleared after sitting out Tuesday and Wednesday's practices waiting.)
Then, there's safety Brandon Blackmon, the only JUCO DB to have been here for the spring.
"Brandon's a guy who came in and had a pretty good kick start in the spring, but then he leveled off," Tiller said. "What we're waiting for him to do is jump up — he's on a plateau right now — but he hasn't done that yet."
Blackmon came to Purdue as a cornerback, but was moved to safety in the spring, when he actually spent quite a bit of time with the first-team defense.
"I have to improve my whole game," Blackmon said. "I feel my coverage is good, but I'd like to be more physical when I'm inside the box (around the line of scrimmage) and I need to keep learning the defense. It's been a big transition going from corner to safety.
"Coming from corner to safety, you have to know more about what everyone on the defense is doing and not just worry about yourself. That forced me to take more time studying, more time in the film room and more time with myself."
Tiller acknowledged that Blackmon — who came to Purdue with limited experience in the defensive backfield — might be a redshirt candidate.
"It's a possibility, but we're going to reserve judgment on any redshirts for another two or three weeks."
Spencer Still Out
Senior defensive end Anthony Spencer remains sidelined with a strained hamstring, an issue that's persisted far longer than Tiller — who expected to have Spencer this whole week — anticipated.
"He's been in purple longer than I thought he'd be in purple," Tiller said, "so maybe it's more serious than we know."
In other injury-related notes, linebacker Josh Ferguson is now in purple with a shoulder sprain, one of the many that have afflicted the Boilermakers. He might return tomorrow, Tiller said.
Sophomore offensive tackle Garret Miller is expected back from the same injury on Friday, when Purdue will conduct its final substantive scrimmage of preseason practice.
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