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Late Saturday afternoon’s Boilermaker football practice was more proof positive that the coaching staff is very, very interested in the progress of two freshmen: wide receiver Dorien Bryant and tight end/defensive end Ryan Baker.
Purdue ran its first live scrimmage of training camp Saturday afternoon, and Bryant took center stage, from a participation standpoint, anyway. He ran consistently with the second-team offense, and other units. He even took a snap or two with the starters.
The ball came Bryant’s way often. He had swing passes thrown to him, as well as balls thrown over the middle down the field. He even took an end-around hand-off for a sizeable gain.
It’s becoming increasingly apparent the young speed demon is on the fast track — no pun intended — to the field in 2004. Bryant’s also competing to return punts, and getting looks at various special teams units.
After practice, Coach Joe Tiller was asked if the coaches were simply determining how they might be able to use Bryant, or if he’s already passed other receivers.
"Both," the coach smirked. "First, we think he’s going to be on the field, and second, we need to figure out what he can do if he is on the field."
As for Baker, things are pretty black and white, literally.
He spent all week — including this morning — in a white jersey practicing at tight end. But he took the field Saturday afternoon in a black shirt, as a defensive end.
But because he’s not yet learned the defensive alignments, he changed back into white during practice and played tight end in the scrimmage.
Tiller said Baker will continue to alternate, but suggested it’s going to basically be a "game-time" decision before each practice on where Baker plays.
"To be very honest, we want to watch him on tape and figure out if we really want to keep working him on defense," Tiller said, "or if we want to put our energies into (practicing him on) offense.
"We think, as a staff, that if we had to play a game tomorrow, which we do not, that he would be our third tight end (behind Charles Davis and Dustin Keller)."
That’s a mouthful, considering that Tiller has had positive things to say about sophomore Garret Bushong.
As for Baker’s ultimate destination, Tiller said the uncertainty could continue "all the way through training camp."
The red-zone scrimmage was full-contact, though the players were reminded, "We’re all on the same team" and thus forbidden from hitting below the waist. Quarterbacks were off-limits.
The defense won out in the early going, stringing together a series of stops after the offense scored on its second crack. But the offense finished strong and ended up scoring on 5-of-13 drives. The series start at the 25, and the offense has to score a touchdown to "win."
Brandon Kirsch connected twice with Jake Cunningham for touchdowns, once sticking a 12-yard pass between two defenders at the goal line, then later hitting Cunningham downfield, only to watch the young receiver slip through two tacklers across the goal line.
Kyle Orton bailed the offense out of a low-percentage situation when he fired across the middle to Taylor Stubblefield, who made a tackler miss and just snuck the ball over the line. A one-yard Brandon Jones plunge accounted for the other first-team score.
Among the youngsters, Scott Carroll hit Chase Lecklider for a 25-yard score off a bootleg that worked to perfection.
There was one turnover, as defensive end Gene Bright recovered a fumbled snap on the first-team offense’s first play of one series.
There were also numerous big hits.
Tight end Charles Davis caught a ball from Orton near the sideline, but was blasted by Bernard Pollard and the ball came loose. Later, Pollard drove fullback Jon Goldsberry to the ground, after the linebacker/fullback had caught a swing pass in the flat for a nice gain. It was the rare black jersey-on-black jersey tackle.
Earlier, Pollard had buried Andre Chattams during 7-on-7 red-zone work, jarring the ball loose and providing a highlight in a drill the offense pretty much dominated.
Perhaps even more impressive, though, was the smack freshman safety Torri Williams laid on classmate Anthony Heygood, who’d taken a handoff up the middle for a few yards before getting blasted. Earlier, Williams had registered a nice breakup of a pass intended for Bryant over the middle.
Two walk-on players have quit the team: defensive tackles Scott Clark, a freshman from near-by McCutcheon High School and Josh O’Brien, a redshirt freshman transfer from Indiana State. O’Brien’s brother, Jake, is a heavyweight wrestler at Purdue.
More From Practice
o The offense featured a lot of two-back sets during the scrimmage, which Tiller suggested was because of the staff’s desire to get Goldsberry — "He’s a talent on offense" — on the field more.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean a total shift from the one-back spread.
"We might go to both extremes," Tiller said. "We might go from wingin’ it to running it (out of two-back)."
The staff, according to Tiller, has put in a pair of new pass plays for the fullback, also.
o A couple other defensive highlights from the scrimmage were a Brian Hickman break-up of an end-zone pass for Kyle Ingraham, and a Ray Edwards sack of Kirsch, though contact with the QB was prohibited.
Offensively, Stubblefield made a tremendous catch, stretching out and dragging a toe in-bounds to haul in an Orton pass to the sideline that may have drifted a centimeter or two too high.
o Brian Hare had an outstanding showing during 7-on-7 red-zone passing drills, running with the first- and second-teamers, as opposed to the opposite part of the practice field where most of the newcomers were sent.
During the drill, Hare got behind a defender to haul in a lob to the back of the end zone, then did so again, only this time fighting off close coverage. Finally, he caught a pass in traffic while literally sitting down.
o Working in here and there with the "varsity" throughout practice were Bryant and Hare, defensive backs Williams, Zach Logan and Fabian Martin and linebacker Cliff Avril. Junior college transfers Rob Ninkovich and Jeremy Coley have run some with the second team at defensive end.
Special teams drills are often a good way to get hints as to who the staff is really looking at to play right away, but at this point, the field of participants is too large to mean anything. Basically any of the newcomers who run well — big and small — are getting looks for kickoff duties.
o Among the running backs, it would appear as if Heygood catches the ball as well as anyone. The tight ends have all been catching the ball well also, and that includes Davis, who’s made some nice catches in passing drills.
o In 7-on-7, in addition to Hare’s highlights, Stubblefield went over Grant Walker to haul in a long touchdown pass, and Davis stretched out to corral a swift Orton pass over the middle for a would-be score. Over on the other field, Desmond Tardy hauled in a long bomb from Carroll for seven in 7-on-7.
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