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Purdue coach Darrell Hazell is no fool. Yes, there's plenty of football work to do after last year's 1-11 disappointment and running back Raheem Mostert will play a big part in it.
But first there's the upcoming national indoor track championship to consider. As the Big Ten champion in the 60- and 200-meter dashes, Mostert will head to Albuquerque, N.M., for the March 14-15 event.
Mostert – who runs with the motto "Go hard or go home" – set a school record by winning the Big Ten meet 60 in 6.63 seconds. He set a Big Ten meet record by winning the 200 in 20.73 seconds.
Hazell won't mess with Mostert's track opportunity, but he does want to make sure the senior from Florida gets in spring practice work.
Mostert got a full load of noncontact action Thursday, the first day of spring practice, and will again Saturday before things dial back next week.
“We'll have him go full-go this week,” Hazell said, “which is only two practices and no contact. Next week he won't do a thing for us but be out here taking mental reps. We'll save him for the nationals. We'll loosen him up and that's about it.”
Mostert, who has thrived as a kick returner at Purdue the last couple of years, is set to challenge Akeem Hunt for the starting tailback job. Last year Mostert rushed for just 37 yards in 11 carries, while Hunt rushed for 464 yards.
Mostert averaged 23.5 yards on kickoff returns last year, his worst as a Boiler. As a freshman he averaged 33.5 yards; as a sophomore it was 25.7.
Hazell opened Purdue's first of 15 spring practices Thursday with the approach that there is no looking in the rearview mirror. His No. 1 message is, “Forward.”
That includes the quarterback competition. Yes, there is a competition. While Danny Etling won the starting job last season as a true freshman, Hazell isn't ready to anoint him the upcoming starter. Veteran Austin Appleby is in the running as is true freshman David Blough.
“We'll give everybody an opportunity,” Hazell said. “Danny came off last season as the front-runner, but we're giving Austin the chance to compete for the job as well as David.
“For the first day (of spring practice), I thought they were comfortable. They pulled it down when they should have pulled it down. That's something I begged for us to do last year, so it was good to see them do that.”
Last year Etling completed 55.8 percent of his passes for 1,690 yards, 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Appleby played in two games, going 5-for-6 for 68 yards and a touchdown.
“Danny has got to continue to be a completions-driven guy,” Hazell said. “That's the most important thing. If he can make completions and get confidence and get into a rhythm, that gives confidence to everybody around him.”
Hazell pushes an upbeat approach despite last year's struggles.
“The big thing is getting confidence,” Hazell said, “so that the guys understand what they're doing and how fast they can do it.”
That's a big difference, he added, from last year's Purdue debut season.
“Guys know where they're going and they're going at the speed you want them to go at. We knew what was being called in the huddle. Guys understand the language. That's a huge difference from last year. We're so far ahead from last year, but we've got a long way to go.”
Major spring scrimmages are open to the public March 29 and April 5 at Ross-Ade Stadium. The spring game is set for April 12 with a 1 p.m. kickoff.
A new Purdue coaching addition is Taver Johnson, who will handle the defensive backs. He spent the past two seasons at Arkansas. In 2012 he was the linebackers coach and assistant head coach. Last season he was the defensive backs coach.
He worked with Hazell at Ohio State from 2007 to 2010. Johnson coached defensive backs. He also was the defensive coordinator and assistant coach at Miami of Ohio, as well as spending a year as special teams coordinator for the Cleveland Browns.