Jafar Williams insists he doesn't have a true No. 1 running back.
Though Akeem Hunt would seem the likely option at this point and has been working with some of the No. 1 personnel groupings, Williams said he's giving all of his running backs a chance.
"I want those guys to come to work every day like they're about to lose their job," said Williams, Purdue's running back coach. "Really, I told those guys, I'm going to rotate you. … So I'm going to mix and match those guys and hopefully toward the end of spring, hopefully, we have a good feel of who is No. 1."
Robert Gregory and David Yancey are options at tailback, and Kurt Freytag and Brandon Cottom at fullback.
Williams said he used Yancey, a freshman, some with the No. 2 unit today and had Cottom as the No. 1 fullback. Cottom's rise could have been because Freytag missed practice with an injury. But Williams also likes his third fullback, Jonathan Curry.
And with as much as the Boilermakers appear they're going to use the fullbacks, all could be important.
"The tight ends and the fullbacks are kind of mix and match," Williams said. "They do a little bit of both.
"I think we have enough fullbacks on the roster right now. Those guys are hard to come by," he said. "We've got three guys right now who are going to compete for that starting job."
Purdue will be adding more tailbacks in the fall in the form of freshmen, but Williams says he likes the mix of players he has right now.
Gregory can be a change-of-pace physical back to combine with Hunt, and Yancey has the ability to "be whatever you want him to be."
Comfortable in the spotGregory came to Purdue as a quarterback but was moved to running back last year, and he's still getting used to that adjustment, he said.
"It's all mental," he said of the switch. "I'm a smart person, but it's a lot on my shoulders playing quarterback coming in at a college level, especially from the high school I came from. Playing running back simplified things and I have the athleticism to do it. So it was an easy move, but it's still a rough transition (with) college linebackers and safeties and stuff.
"I like contact. This is more of a transition for me because I came in hoping to play quarterback. But my athleticism pushed me to do this. So it's cool."
Gregory said he'd never heard of former Ohio State Eddie George until last year, but he likes the comparison. He said he thinks he can "fill those shoes" of being a physical, upright back.
Gregory said he felt like he was prepared to play running back last year but feels more comfortable this spring.
"I feel better this year now that we have coaches who actually care about fundamentals and care about getting better day by day as well as they do about winning," he said.
Looking for playmakersPurdue had the lowest punt return average since at least the 1940s last season, which could be attributed to blocking or the directives given to the return men.
But Williams knows what it'll take to boost that average.
"It's all about your guy. It's all about the guy you have back there catching the punts," he said. "If you have a special player back there, you're going to be a productive unit."
Does Purdue have that player?
"We don't know yet. Spring is really about evaluating the guys we have and see where we need to get better," he said.
Keeping the spotMichael Rouse played in nine games last season as a redshirt freshman defensive tackle, all snaps coming in a backup role.
But with projected starters Bruce Gaston and Brandon Taylor out this spring with injuries, Rouse has been getting first-team reps.
Now, he has to make them matter.
"I had this opportunity last spring, but I'm not going to let it slip out of my hands this time," Rouse said. "I'm going to really make them have to earn that starting spot when they come back."
Rouse says he cherishes the chance to be coached by Rubin Carter, a former defensive tackle for the Broncos. Rouse's goal is to be in the NFL, so he figures what better way to get there than learn from someone who's been?
"He knows exactly what it takes to get me to reach my full potential and he's not going to let down on me until I do," Rouse said.
"I'm always thinking I need to do better because I've seen NFL players (as teammates), and I need to get to that level. So I won't be happy with my performance until I'm in the Hall of Fame."
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