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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Hope Springs Eternal

What on earth was that? A game? A Scrimmage? A glorified practice? At least Saturday afternoon it was a good excuse to get out of the house and enjoy the nice weather. Plus, any time I can get to West Lafayette, spend some time at Ross-Ade, and pick up a calzone at Lovshack before a drink at Harry’s makes for a good day.

(I will now accept any royalties from the Purdue athletic department, Lovshack, and Harry’s Chocolate shop in the form of clickthroughs on the ads at the top of the page)

It was good to experience the first football at Ross-Ade in five months. Even if the atmosphere wasn’t the same and the field had the air of a dusty cow pasture it was still nice to see a respectable crowd. Though there wasn’t a typical game to play, it was worth the trip for some time in the sunshine and the perks mentioned above.

What is more unclear is what we have learned about this football team heading into the fall. Personally, I don’t think you can ever take much from a series of spring practices and a game. Invariable there are more key players banged up from the season taking it off so they can be healthy in the fall than there those that take part. Even those that do participate generally are trying not to get injured if they have already secured a starting role than exert too much effort. Let’s face it, with the number of returning players we have there were moments of Pro Bowl-level effort out there in order to avoid injury. Ultimately, that is what we want out of spring practice, to have everyone healthy for September 1st when we head to the Glass Bowl in Toledo.

Besides, if we all took great stock in spring practice we’d believe that Indiana is in line to run the table in the Big Ten this season because of their “drastic improvement.” In reality how much can you learn about your team when they are playing against themselves.

So, not unexpectedly, we did not see quite a few guys this spring that will have key roles in the fall. Dan Bick, Dustin Keller, Selwyn Lymon, Garrett Miller, Jonathon Patton, and Torri Williams are all guys that are expected to be front line starts this fall that didn’t see the field very much in the spring. This can be a good thing to promote depth at all positions, but in the case of Lymon and some other guys it is a bad thing because it means they missed a chance to gain some much needed reps.

There were a few positive notes from the day. First of all I was impressed by the running game. Whether it was by design and a conservative game plan or what we seemed to run the ball much more effectively than we did all season last year. Kory Sheets had a big day, and that is a positive sign. I am excited that we will be using more two back sets this season and that we still have some of the option game we installed. If we can run the ball more effectively we will be a much more dangerous football team. Regular readers will note that most of last season I championed the cause of running the ball more in order to keep our terrible defense off the field. It only makes sense. Hopefully the coaching got this simple but effective memo. The two back sets also allow us to keep Sheets and Taylor on the field at the same time, and that can only be a good thing. It was disappointing to see Dario Camacho transfer, but I know being buried on the depth chart was not a promising proposition for him after being highly recruited. It’s a shame, because I felt he could have really thrived in a two back set.

Another player I was impressed by was Jeff Panfil. We have not had a quarterback with his size at Purdue since Kyle Orton, and Panfil appeared to be much more mobile than Orton ever was. I’m not sure what Panfil’s chances are of passing Joey Elliot on the depth chart, but I do hope he gets to see the field some time next season, perhaps in the imminent Eastern Illinois blowout.

As far as the defense goes I noticed and was subsequently impressed by better tackling. Again, not much can be said playing against your own teammates, but it seemed like tackles were made more surely, and at time the front seven was getting more penetration into the back field. There were several pass breakups in the secondary that could have been interceptions easily, and that is a big plus. This defense is going to have to perform appreciably better if we’re going to go anywhere this year, but if they do show that improvement, coupled with the offense we should have, it could make for a big year if things break right.

On special teams I got there too late to see any punting, but the kicking game appeared to struggle mightily. The defense was able to block a pair of field goals and rough Chris Summers on one kick, so in four attempts he was able to only get one off cleanly. He made good on that, and after his 12 for 12 performance in practice just before the spring game he appears to have settled at least some of his issues. He also made great strides this spring in the punting department, and should compete for that role in 2008. Tim Daugherty had a very rough day, as his one field goal was nowhere near good and he even missed an extra point off the upright. Jared Armstrong tried some of the placekicking duties as well, but it still looks like Summers will be the man, at least for now, when the season starts. He deserves another shot and I hope he does well.

And that is about that as far as spring practice goes. It looks like the goal of getting bigger and stronger has been partially accomplished, but it will be a testament to the kids’ work ethic to see how well they do in the summer. I’m encouraged by some of the progress I saw, but I only think you can put about 5% of the stock in what you saw Saturday as transferring over to the field in the fall. It’s nice to have, but a whole lot more work needs to be done before September 1st. let’s just keeps everyone out of jail and in the weight room.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

I am Hated

I know it has been awhile since I have updated here, but in the offseason there is so little to write about that it is worth the break. That, and I have been doing extensive writing for basketball of late through Hickoryhusker.com. Since the season is over, it’s time to think a little bit about football. Conveniently there is actually something to write about of late, and with the team being in the middle of spring practice we can begin looking forward to a new season.

That and I wanted some traffic for ads, so click away at the top! I have to pay for season tickets some way, and each click gets me 15 cents closer!

I must say that I am honored that I have been banned from practices now and singled out by coach Tiller. As a blogger I never expected to have such a profound effect on the program. Sure, I have never been overly critical of the team, but like many fans I am frustrated, and I have chosen this forum to voice my frustration in a polite but firm manner. Many of us were pissed off at the result and lack of effort in the bowl game, and rightfully so. Still, I find it hard to believe that Tiller actually reads my blog, or that many others. What he decides to do for the team is ultimately his discretion, and we’re just along for the ride. The only true difference we can make as fans is being in the stadium on Saturdays. Even then our influence is limited.

Stepping away from the sordid world of the internet, where the damaging words can only do so much, there has been quite a bit of activity off the field to say the least. For this, I am going to take Tiller and the coaching staff off the hook. There is one person and one person alone that can be held accountable in the case Mr. Torri Williams and Mr. Selwyn Lymon. That person is themselves.

For Torri Williams, it is obviously a case of his judgment skills being completely retarded. He is the one that got behind the wheel of a car and drove while intoxicated. Coach Tiller didn’t make him. His parents didn’t make him. His friends didn’t make him. He and he alone should be held accountable. The coaching staff cannot watch these kids every hour of every day. Ultimately they must be held responsible for their own actions. I am not saying they must live in a monestary and never venture out on the town. When I was a student at Purdue I certainly did my own share of venture out for an evening of spirituous beverages. Still, I knew I and I alone was responsible for my actions.

Now I was a lowly nobody, known only to my friends and the approximate four people that saw my show on BTV in the dorms. Williams has a much higher profile being a player on the football team, and therefore must be cognizant of his own accountability. He knew exactly what he was doing. He knew what the consequences would be. Yes, this kind of thing that unfortunately happens all the time to any number of the 37,000 students on campus. Fortunately, he is not taking the Garrett Bushong defense in this one and appears to be facing his punishment well. Coach Tiller was right in blasting his players for their poor judgment, and I applaud him on it.

Lymon is a different case because of his injuries. He also should be held accountable because he was the one that put him in that situation. To my knowledge Nick’s is an establishment that you can go to if you are under 21, so if that is the case then age is not an issue. Obviously all of the details are not out, but if there is an altercation and someone else pulls a knife it is not your fault. The lone fault Lymon has sure is that he was there. Assuming Nick’s is an under-21 place, then there is nothing wrong with that unless he is violating team curfew rules.

Again, this isn’t an exercise in great judgment, but unless he started the fight it’s not his fault he was stabbed. What does bother me is Tiller’s callous attitude toward the incident. Lymon was in critical condition for a short time, and Tiller never once voiced that he was glad he was okay? I know that he may/may not have violated a rule, but the kid nearly died. Show at least a little compassion.

This all gives me a feeling of unease as the season comes closer. We are less than five months away from the first game and already too many off-the-field distractions are happening. When you forget all the position battles, strength conditioning, and injuries we must overcome there is still not an attitude of hard work around this team. I could be wrong since I have never seen a practice, but there hasn’t been much word of an improved work ethic. The news that Chris Summers attended a kicking camp over spring break and got some very useful instruction is a huge positive. At least someone is committed to getting better. He also appears to be kicking very well in practice, according to what few inside sources I have. With the length this kid has we can’t give up on him yet, and once he makes a few in a game last year will be forgotten.

We don’t know how the bulk of our recruits will perform, but because of what we have returning most of them look like redshirt projects for now. Brian Ellis was obviously a good pickup, but he may be the only one who can start right away. We appear to be set, for better or worse, at secondary, in the backfield, and at receiver. Everything else looks like it will have to come from guys that were on the roster last year, not some stud recruit.

It’s beating the phrase to death, but this year is a big year for the program. I think it is even bigger than the last two have been because of the drop off in recruiting we have seen. If we’re going to at the very least stay in the top half of the conference we have to expect to beat certain teams with this year’s schedule. We’re a Big Ten program, so we should never lose to a MAC school or lower, making Central Michigan, Toledo, and Eastern Illinois win at any cost games. Two of those three will be stuff, but we still should win them. Another critical factor is that most of the rest of our schedule will be breaking in a new, untested quarterback. We should therefore have at least some measure of an advantage against Notre Dame, Minnesota, Michigan State, Iowa, and Ohio State. Because of our experience we simply have to take four out of those five games, and personally anything less would be a disappointment and show our defense has learned nothing.

That is seven wins right there, and of the remaining four games Indiana and Northwestern certainly could be called on for two more. Is a 9-3 season and possible New Year’s Day bowl enough?

Until then we have to get our house in order. Unfortunately this season has a feeling a lot like the 2005 season. If we don’t come out rolling in that first game at Toledo we’re going to get rolled, and we could easily find ourselves in a deep hole early since our only guaranteed win early is Eastern Illinois.

Quite simply, it’s time to hold ourselves accountable. No more excuses.