by P. Carl Giordano, Managing Editor

Purdue’s training room was one of the busiest in the nation last season, much to HC Danny Hope’s dismay. The Boilermakers almost had to set up a triage unit outside due to the inordinate number of injuries the football team suffered. Hope’s offense was stripped of its top three players when QB Robert Marve, RB Ralph Bolden and WR Keith Smith all suffered torn ACLs before the conference schedule began. The next best receiver, Justin Siller, sprained his foot in his one (and only) Big Ten play of the season and sat the rest of the way. Eight additional top contributors on offense and defense missed at least one game. When backup QB Rob Henry suffered a bad cut on his hand, Sean Robinson (then a true frosh) was thrust into action. It’s no wonder the Boilermakers staggered to six straight conference losses to close a forgettable 2010 season.

Coach Hope was given a vote of confidence and a one-year contract extension by A.D. Morgan Burke, so he’s got some time to work with, but none to waste. The Purdue faithful expect a bowl game this season, and, with 17 starters and both kickers returning, they will be extremely disappointed if they don’t get one.

Rob Henry was named a captain and was unquestionably the most productive QB in spring. He’s much more mobile than Marve, rushing for a team-best 547 yards last season (5.3 ypc). Henry played much of the second half of the year hurt, so his passing efficiency should improve. Marve heads into the fall as a capable backup. Although the Miami transfer completed 69% of his passes in his three full games as a starter last season, Marve’s TD (3) to interception (4) ratio was disappointing despite notching a 2-1 record before being injured in the first quarter against Toledo.

The Boiler attack was ranked 112th in passing, and o.c. Gary Nord must find some playmaking receivers if it is to improve. Only one of the top four pass catchers returns. Antavian Edison is the leading returning WR, but he isn’t a big target at 5-11, and he gained just 316 yards on 32 catches. O.J. Ross caught 11 passes as a true frosh last season before being injured, but he’s also 5-11. The best hope for an explosive wideout is the healthy return of 5th-year senior Justin Siller, who moved to WR last season after playing QB and RB in 2008 and sitting out completely in 2009. Siller is 6-4, 223 and could provide a much-needed component.

The offense could have an effective running game if jr. RB Ralph Bolden’s surgically repaired knee holds up. Bolden ran for 935 yards (4.7 ypc; 11 TDs) as a soph in 2009 and was expected to be one of the top backs in the Big Ten before his injury. There’s no depth and therefore no clear alternative if Bolden can’t make the post. Four returning offensive line starters should ensure quality protection and provide some holes for Bolden to run through.

The defense will definitely miss DE Ryan Kerrigan, who was the 16th pick in the NFL draft, but with 9 returning starters, there’s definitely reason to believe the stop unit will improve on its 29 ppg allowed and 62nd ranking in total defense. DT Kawann Short (6 sacks LY) was named to the second-team all-Big Ten list, as was CB Ricardo Allen (73 tackles), while S Logan Link led the team with 91 stops last year. The entire 2ndary returns, but that unit finished 85th in pass defense last season despite Kerrigan’s 12½ sacks.

LBs Dwayne Beckford (84 stops) and Joe Holland (73) ranked 2nd and 3rd on the team in tackles and were responsible for holding foes to 3.6 ypc. The linebacking corps is a deep group that includes ex-starter Chris Carlino (71 tackles in 2009), soph Will Lucas (43 tackles LY), and promising redshirt frosh Joe Gilliam. The defensive line will lean heavily on DT Short, an all-Big Ten candidate, but DT Bruce Gaston and DE Gerald Gooden should improve, especially Gaston, a 301-lb. run-stuffer who played well as a true frosh last season.

Purdue FG specialist Carson Wiggs is off his most accurate season (15 of 19), and he’s scored 197 points in the last three years.

Summary: Not sure we have as much confidence in Purdue and Danny Hope as does the Boiler administration. The team is paper-thin in several key areas, and last season wasn’t the first time the Purdue football campaign was wrecked by injuries. We see only three “sure thing” wins on the schedule (and at least six probable losses); the alumni might be getting restless before the Boilermakers hit the meat of their conference schedule in November. Purdue has dropped 7 of its last 8 spread decisions as a favorite, and Hope’s 9-15 record in his first two years at West Lafayette might be a true indication of his coaching ability. Apparently, Joe Tiller he’s not.

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