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August 29, 2006
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With Saturday's season opener against Indiana State approaching, GoldandBlack.com takes a position-by-position look back at preseason practice. Here's the offensive line.
Purdue has as rock-solid a starting five on its offensive line as could be realistically hoped for; that much is clear.
The topic's already been beaten to death and the season hasn't even arrived yet, but in tackles Mike Otto and Sean Sester, guards Uche Nwaneri and Jordan Grimes and center Robbie Powell, the Boilermakers have a potentially great O-line on its hands.
Nothing occurred during the preseason to suggest otherwise.
In fact, by all accounts, Nwaneri returned from his semester-/season-long hiatus in better shape and as a better player, and Sester has improved considerably after starting every game in 2005 as a redshirt freshman.
Otto, it's believed, is on pace for a terrific season, and there's little to no concern about Powell in the middle. Grimes might still be able to trim down some, but he certainly can be a physically dominant player no matter what he's weighing these days.
Depth on the line was a concern going into camp, but some questions have been at least partially answered.
Nwaneri's just missed a week of practice after having his appendix out, giving sophomore backup Zach Smith a week with the first-team offense. He's said to have improved significantly, to the point where he's the Boilermakers' third guard after finally landing at the position after stints at both tackle and center.
Purdue's fourth guard - Grimes' backup - is promising redshirt freshman Eric Hedstrom, who took a big step forward this preseason. He spent last year at tackle and is acclimating himself to guard, but has come a long way in a relatively short period of time. Like any young lineman, he'll need to get significantly stronger, something that generally comes with time.
Unfortunately, this preseason was a wash for Nick Fincher, who in the spring had all but nailed down a spot as a lineman who could be relied on. But, he injured his knee late in spring ball, adding another chapter to the litany of injuries that have plagued the snake-bitten junior's career. He spent the off-season recovering and has yet to practice this season.
At tackle, sophomore Garret Miller has added some weight - he's hovering in the mid-290s, though you'd never know by looking at the svelte-looking Texan - and improved via experience, if nothing else. He will back up both tackle positions, likely en route to filling the vacancy Otto will leave in 2007.
Coming into camp, it looked like Miller would be Purdue's only viable backup option at tackle, but that was before the coaches began talking up sophomore Dan Zaleski, a former walk-on. Coach Joe Tiller calls the 6-4, 291-pounder the team's most improved offensive lineman.
Another backup who's held in high regard is center Cory Benton, though it's certainly hoped he'll never be needed this season, beyond mop-up snaps. Benton walked on to the team as a tight end before moving to offensive tackle. He's apparently found a home in the middle and is regarded as a trusted reserve.
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