2006 Purdue Football Preview
Aug. 29, 2006
2005 Record: 5-6 (3-5 Big Ten)
Head Coach: Joe Tiller. Record at Purdue: 67-43. Overall Record: 106-73-1.
Starters Returning: Offense 7, Defense 4, Special Teams 0
After spending the holiday season in West Lafayette, Ind. - rather than a warm and sunny bowl game getaway - for the first time in his nine seasons as Purdue head coach, Joe Tiller decided it was time for a change.
Despite the impressive streak and an explosive offense with seven returning starters, Tiller is using last season's setback as motivation. And it didn't stop with his student-athletes. Several new coaches join the Boilermaker staff in 2006, including four on offense and one on defense, who will help guide a talented but inexperienced squad passed up-and-down memories of the past year.
"Having five new guys on staff is something I've never experienced before as a coach," Tiller said. "But I think this is the strongest staff we've had since my first year at Purdue."
With former line coach Bill Legg and Illinois assistant Ed Zaunbrecher taking over as co-offensive coordinators, the Boilermaker attack will get tweaked. But the squad won't completely abandon the spread offense, which Tiller believes served its purpose, making way for the running game's 4.9 yards per carry - the third-best average in the Big Ten.
Leading Purdue's offense is junior quarterback Curtis Painter. After starting the final five games, Painter showed he was a capable dual-threat at the helm. A running quarterback with a big arm, he has the mobility and strength to make big-time plays and give the Boilermakers a long-range passing attack. Painter tossed 932 yards while finishing third on the team rushing with 251 yards and four scoring runs.
Painter's biggest returning target is junior wide receiver Dorien Bryant. A tough athlete to cover one-on-on, Bryant is one of the Big Ten's most dangerous receivers. He pulled in 80 catches for 960 yards and four touchdowns last season. Senior Kyle Ingram is a heady 6-9 and 228 pounds with fuel to burn. The speedy senior will be a tough target for defenses after averaging over 12 yards per catch on 41 grabs last year.
While the receiving corps returns a wealth of experience the ground game will be without Jerod Void, who was the offense's biggest producer for the second-half of 2005. Sophomore Kory Sheets is poised to fill Void's absence. The top returning scorer, Sheets rushed for 10 touchdowns and 571 yards last year.
Paving the way for Sheets is one of the most impenetrable offensive lines in the conference. The group surrendered only nine sacks last year and features three potential league stand outs in sophomore tackles Mike Otto and Sean Sester and guard Jordan Grimes. Anchoring the front five is junior center Robbie Powell, a stanch pass-blocker who started every game of 2005 at left tackle. Opposite Grimes at left guard returns senior Uche Nwaneri, a steady road-block for the ground game, who missed all of last season.
Several talented prospects are looking to fill the shoes of tackle Brandon Villarreal and pass rush menace Rob Ninkovich on the line. With 6-4, 254-pound size and good dose of speed, junior Eugene Bright is set to replace Ninkovich at end opposite of Anthony Spencer. The only returning starter in the front core, Spencer returns with 23 starts to his credit. He counted 23 tackles and three sacks last season, but will need to make more pass-rushing highlight plays to be the clear cut leader of the group. One of the lines biggest components, the 6-6, 282 tackle Ryan Backer is an athletic interior pass rusher who has the potential to eclipse Villarreal's success in the position.
George Hall leads the Purdue linebacking corps in the middle with veteran Stanford Keglar and the speedy Dan Bick competing for weakside playing time. Hall is the Boilermakers returning tackle leader with 77 stops and three broken up passes. With versatile speed and range, Hall's abilities in the backfield and against the air attack will raise the bar for the entire defense.
The greenest group of the Boilermaker defense is its secondary. Junior cornerback Zach Logan is the lone returning starter. After a 43-tackle performance with five passes defended last year, Logan is one of the fastest Purdue players. With more secure tackling, he has the potential to crank out All-Conference numbers. He will be joined by sophomore Brandon King. A former quarterback, King saw time as a reserve in the corner position last year but only has four tackles to his credit. At safety sophomore Torri Williams is counting on his health to become one of the team's best players. He missed all of 2005 with a broken leg, but now the former wide receiver is primed to become a tackling leader. He will get some help from junior college transfer Brandon Blackmon at free safety.
The kicking game might start completely fresh with true freshman Tim Dougherty expected to reign in placekicking duties is he can out-do walk-ons Casey Welch and Kyle Mossbrucker. Junior college All-American Jared Armstrong is also prepared to come in and take over as punter after the departure of Dave Brytus, and he has the accuracy and big leg to step in as a long-range field goal kicker, as well.
The young Boilermaker squad opens the season with four home games before a tough stretch of on-the-road battles at Notre Dame, Iowa and Northwestern. The squad also lucks out with the absence of the league's top two preseason picks, Ohio State and Michigan, on the slate for the second consecutive season.
Tiller said the opening string of contests on its home turf will be a huge determinant in the team's season.
"How we come out of the shoot will say a lot in determining the way our season goes," he said. "If we get off to a respectable start, we will have the type of team that improves as the season goes along. I like this team. I've made that comment often and I continue to say that because I believe that and feel that. I like the camaraderie and the way we interact with each other."