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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- The question is speed and Rob Henry squints beneath a bright summer sun before answering. Think Clint Eastwood as he prepares to blow way some bad guy punk.
“I tell you what,” Purdue's senior quarterback says, “I will race anybody on this team, or anybody in the Big Ten. I'm pretty confident in my speed.”
The gauntlet has been thrown and tailback Akeem Hunt, another fast Boiler, is ready to respond.
“Yes, sir, I think I can beat Rob,” Hunt says with a laugh. “He's very competitive. I would love to race him, any time.”
For the record, Henry and Hunt have not raced. There is no plan for them to race. The search for the truth leads to senior safety Landon Feichter.
“If I had to put money on it, I couldn't give you an answer on who is faster,” Fiechter says. “I have no idea. I know one thing -- I don't like running either of them down.”
And then …
“It is so difficult to run Akeem down. Football speed wise and 40-yard dash time, he's the fastest player on the field. I'd like to think I'm not the slowest guy, but he makes me seem slow. I feel slow when I try to run him down.”
And then …
“It's the same thing with Rob. He's another guy with outrageous speed. Both are very fast. I like coming down hill on them rather than chasing them from behind.”
Henry's speed remains undiminished two years after ACL surgery. He's ready to prove he hasn't lost a step.
“I'm confident in my health. I feel good. I continue to recover well. I get in the training room and do preventative stuff that will keep me healthy throughout the season.”
Three years ago Henry emerged as the starting quarterback and, despite a deep laceration on the index finger of his throwing hand, threw for 996 yards and eight touchdowns. He also led the team in rushing with 547 yards and four touchdowns.
He was the No. 1 quarterback entering preseason camp the next year, but missed the season with the knee injury. Last year he was a third-string backup. He was 21-for-38 for 216 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. He rushed for 74 yards and one TD.
Now he's positioned to win the starting job, with redshirt freshman Austin Appleby and true freshman Danny Etling at No. 3 right behind him.
“Rob is really smart,” offensive coordinator John Shoop says. “He's proven to be an accurate passer within the pocket. He's really fast. If he gets out on the perimeter, he's a guy who has some run-pass options. On third downs he might take off in man to mans. He's got some speed at that position.
“Having said that, he understands he's a facilitator first. Our quarterback will be a guy who has to be accurate and intelligent and get the ball to receivers, tight ends and backs.”
As far as picking a starter, nothing is etched in stone. Today's scrimmage at Ross-Ade Stadium is the last preseason camp chance to make an impression. Coach Darrell Hazell has said he wants to use the final two weeks before the Aug. 31 opener at Cincinnati to fine tune the offense. A starter is set to be named Sunday or Monday.
Shoop says he likes what he's seen from all three players.
“They have been throwing a lot of completions,” he says. “It's been a wonderful competition. They're all friends. They're pushing one another to be the quarterback they dreamed of being. We have high expectations for that position, whoever it is.”
Adds Henry: “We all compete against ourselves on a daily basis. That's something Coach Shoop pushes each one individually, and as a group, to make the team better, make ourselves better. We all embrace the challenge we put on ourselves, the pressure we put on ourselves.
“As far as the overall competition goes, we're all good friends. There's no rivalry.”
How much does a running quarterback factor into the starting decision?
“Our quarterback is a facilitator first,” Shoop says. “I compare it to a point guard -- not necessarily a scorer, but an assist guy. His No. 1 job is to get us in and out of the right plays. Get the ball to the skill players where they can do something with it. That's his No. 1 job. Anything he gives us in terms of running is like finding money in your pocket. That's good, but the No. 1 job is get the ball in the hands of the skill players. Because we have some skill players.”
Some have questioned Henry's accuracy given he's a career 53.5 percent passer when most college coaches want that at least 10 percentage points higher. Henry has worked hard on that.
“I've done some work with different people and changed a few things, but for the most part it's being healthy. That will improve my accuracy. If I stay healthy, I've always had confidence in my abilities. If I do that, I feel good about how this year will go.”