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Posted on Tue. Aug. 19, 2014 - 12:01 am EDT

Baptism of fire fuels Etling's Purdue rise

Starting job just the first of his challenges

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Baptisms of fire serve a purpose. Consider Purdue quarterback Danny Etling, who is where he is today -- the starter with an all-things-are-possible future -- because of a red-hot college football initiation.

If he hadn't played so much last season as a true freshman (eight games, seven starts), if he hadn't taken the pounding and overcome the frustration, he wouldn't have beaten out Austin Appleby and earned a Big Ten opportunity.

“It prepares you to know what to expect,” Elting said, “to get your body right, to prepare in the off-season. It would have been tough to mature the way that I have and develop the way that I have if I hadn't played.”

Or, as coach Darrell Hazell put it after naming Etling the starter on Monday, “They are both light years ahead of where they were last year.”

It took Etling two weeks – a week longer than Hazell had originally wanted – to win the starting job. Why? Because Appleby pushed him hard.

Etling has never been handed the job. Last year, senior Rob Henry opened as the starter before his and the offense's struggles caused coaches to go with Etling.

“It's a little different than last year,” Etling said. “It's less of a whirlwind. It's nice to win a job and show teammates that I can do what you need me to do. It's good that teammates believe in me. But we'll look at it as a quarterback position as a whole, not as an individual.”

Winning the starting job only starts the challenge given Purdue's rugged schedule includes Notre Dame, Wisconsin and Nebraska.

“You don't want to be looking over your shoulder,” Etling said, “but I understand we have very capable quarterbacks. Any of them can got in and help us win games. You have to keep pushing. You have to practice hard and prepare.”

How is Etling better? Hazell had a few thoughts.

“Danny is much more comfortable, much more confident, but they both are. He is able to visualize things so much easier now. He sees what's happening out there. Pictures are being drawn in his head. That's huge. Rather than thinking, 'What did I just see,' you have that picture.”

That picture has become clearer under the guidance of offensive coordinator John Shoop, who constantly pushes a be-efficient message.

“Coach Shoop and I are seeing things on the field through the same eyes. He has more faith in me to see the defense and change plays the way I see fit.”

Hazell said Etling ended spring with the starting edge, and while Appleby closed the gap, he couldn't eliminate it.

“They both played extremely well the first two weeks,” Hazell said. “Danny was a little bit ahead, and someone had to take it from him. You've got to make a decision.

“It's like I told Austin, I couldn't be more proud of a guy, or more comfortable putting in a guy if we need to.”

The quarterback competition reflected Hazell's nothing-is-given camp approach -- if you want to play, you have to earn it.

“Both of those guys answered the challenge,” Hazell said, “whether I put it out there verbally or not. They got better because of the competition. We got better across the board because of that competition (at all positions).”

Last year Etling threw for 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions, while completing 55 percent of his passes. The goal is to improve the completion percentage by at least 10, dramatically increase the touchdown passes while reducing the interceptions and sacks (Purdue quarterbacks were sacked 38 times last season).

Beyond that, the offense must be far better than last season's 14.9-point average.

“As an offense, we have to take a huge step in terms of production,” Etling said. “We're gaining cohesion. I think this will be a very productive offense and we'll continue to push ourselves.”

That push includes the deep pass, a point of camp emphasis that remains a work in progress.

“We're trying to push it down field and give our receivers a chance to make plays,” Etling said.

One thing, at least, is clear: Etling will be the one providing that chance.

pdiprimio@news-sentinel.com


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