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Posted on Mon. Aug. 11, 2014 - 12:01 am EDT

COLUMN

Wait continues for Purdue quarterback clarity

Etling, Appleby, Blough still competing

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WEST LAFAYETTE -- Clarity comes to those who wait.

That's fine if you're, say, Confucius spouting wisdom to last a thousand years. It's a problem if you're trying to build a Big Ten-solid offense.

Case in point -- Purdue coach Darrell Hazell.

He wants to name a starting quarterback. He wants to know, like now, who has “ownership of this team.” In an ideal world, it would be last year's starter, Danny Etling.

But Etling has to separate himself from the competition, which means Austin Appleby and David Blough can still beat him out.

Some might see imminent disaster in that, after one week of practice, nothing is settled. Etling was recruited to be the next great Purdue quarterback and he has everything he needs to do so, including a relentless drive that has him putting in never-ending hours to master a position few ever do. A cynic could ask, if he can't pull away from a true freshman (Blough) and a redshirt sophomore with limited playing experience (Appleby), what does that say about the state of the position?

Plenty, Hazell says, and it's all good.

“You know what, if this was a situation where one guy was playing poorly and another was playing well, then yes I'd be concerned. But when they're all playing well, that's a good thing. And all three are going a good job. It's fun to see.

“Austin has done a good job of closing the gap. So has David. They have made it a significant competition. This week will tell us a lot.”

Hazell had originally wanted to name a starter today. Instead, he's likely to wait until after evaluating Saturday's jersey scrimmage.

“There's a good chance I will wait unless something drastic happens in the next three to four days. In the scrimmage we'll get to see them in live action. The big question there is, how much true live action do you go with them? How much do you put the gold jerseys (no hitting) on them.

“At that point we'll be two weeks from the first game. There's a risk-reward you always worry about.”

Last year Etling, as a true freshman, completed 55.8 percent of his passes for 1,690 yards, 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions. That wasn't bad considering the Boilers had the Big Ten's last-place rushing attack and gave up a conference-worst 38 sacks.

Appleby, meanwhile, was 5-for-6 for 68 yards and a touchdown in limited action.

Blough, who arrived at Purdue in January and participated in winter workouts and spring practice, seems unlikely to beat out the two sophomores.

Hazell has a firm vision of where he wants the program (can you say Rose Bowl?), what it takes to get there (work, execution, attention to detail, determination,) and what he needs from the quarterback (avoid turnovers, be efficient).

Offensive coordinator John Shoop's task is to make that happen.

“They have to, No. 1, take care of the ball,” Shoop said. “We don't have guys who are careless with it, but they have to prove they can take care of it.

“No. 2, play incredibly efficiently. Make plays work.

“It's more about mental endurance and mental toughness. They all can do it, but you have to be mentally tough to do it 70 to 80 plays a game, time and time again. You have to show it, not just on one play or on a splash play, but in a body of work. These guys have a body of work.”

The body will get six more days of work. By then, with two games left until the Aug. 30 season opener against Western Michigan, ownership needs to be complete.

Etling, more than anyone, feels the heat.

“Every position we have is a lot of good competition,” he said. “It gets us improving. But in the back of your head, you're thinking, I've got to do well to help the team, but I also have to do well to keep my job. You can't make mistakes, then have someone who can do the same job doing it without the mistakes. There's a lot of pressure to really learn the offense, take care of the ball, and not make mistakes.”

Of course, football is a pressure game, and the tough thrive in it.

For now, that's about as much Purdue quarterback clarity as we can offer.

pdiprimio@news-sentinel.com


This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Pete DiPrimio at pdiprimio@news-sentinel.com.


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