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August 17, 2009

'The heroes of camp'

Coach Danny Hope continues to be impressed with his new freshman class, in particular those newcomers who arrived on campus early.

"If I had to say the most impressive thing I've seen in camp so far, I'd say some of the freshman guys," Hope said after the second of Monday's two practices. "I'm talking about the guys who came here this summer and left home right after high school and were here for summer school all by themselves all summer long and didn't get a chance to go home before jumping right into two-a-days. They've fought through camp.

"Those guys have really progressed and they can help us win this year."

Of those rookies, Hope singled out linebackers Antwon Higgs and Dwayne Beckford, each of whom were on campus in the spring.

Wide receiver Gary Bush was one of the freshmen who arrived in the summer to stay.

"He's getting better and better and better," Hope said of Bush, "and I'm really impressed with his want-to, how important it is to him. He's really going to be a heck of a player and he's going to help us this year."

Hope again cited fellow receiver Antavian Edison, as well.

"They call him 'Breeze,'" Hope said. "He's doing a great job. ... He has great spirit and great effort about him. And (cornerback) Josh Johnson does as well."

Other freshmen who were on campus for virtually the entire summer, if not the entire summer, were quarterback Rob Henry, defensive tackle Xavier Melton and defensive back Ishmael Aristide. There were several others, too.

Hope said those rookies who arrived early and have excelled through the first week of fall practice are "the heroes of camp to me."

When asked about Aristide, who missed his senior season of high school after injuring his knee, Hope said the safety looked "a little bit stiff" in the knee early in camp, to where it impacted his lateral movement.

"He's hitting people hard," Hope said, "but he's still struggling with the knee some. In my mind, he's looked better the past couple of days. But he's got a ways to go. He's giving great effort."

Henry is Purdue's No. 3 quarterback right now, Hope said.

"He's really smart and he studies the game quite a bit," Hope said. "He spent quite a bit of time here this summer studying on his own, working with the older quarterbacks and getting together for throwing and catching. He had an edge on the other quarterbacks coming in.

"Right now, he's our No. 3 and we'd have to make a decision as to whether or not we'd play him or Chris Bennett, based on the redshirt factor and what time of the year it is."

Henry, who tried to graduate high school early only to find out his particular school didn't allow it, said the jump start to his college career has benefited him.

"I just wanted to get a head start, especially with my major," said Henry, who'll go into freshman engineering academically. "I thought I could get ahead in my classes a little bit. But I also had a chance to work with (new teammates) quite a bit and get ahead with that, which was great, getting to know some of the plays and formations and stuff like that.

"It was a big advantage getting ahead."

More from Monday

Hope on his two standout defensive linemen: "I think Mike Neal is a lot better than he was this time last year. He's starting to get himself in shape and starting to become the dominant player he can be. And I think Ryan Kerrigan can be the very best at his position in our league."

Even though sophomore Colton McKey is sidelined with knee problems after having surgery last year - Hope believes that will be a long-term loss - tight end is one of Purdue's most established, deepest positions.

Junior Kyle Adams is the anticipated starter, with classmates Jeff Lindsay and Jeff Panfil also expected to play roles.

"I like our tight ends," Hope said. "I think all three of our (healthy) tight ends bring something to the table."

"I don't have any problem putting Jeff Lindsay in the football game right now," Hope said. "He's a physical blocker and he's an outstanding receiver, a very good receiving tight end.

"You can take Kyle Adams out and he's a heck of a player and put Jeff Lindsay in and there's not much drop-off. You can still win and still call the same plays."

Hope said his corps of running backs is "the epitome of that," as well, mentioning seniors Jaycen Taylor and Frank Halliburton being "good enough to be starters" along with penciled-in No. 1 back Ralph Bolden and junior Dan Dierking.

"Dan Dierking's done a great job being very physical in camp," Hope sad, "and very consistent in camp."

The running back corps has stepped up in practice recently in particular, quarterback Joey Elliott said.

"They've made some huge plays out of nothing and have done a really good job running hard," Elliott said after the team scrimmaged in the morning. "I think Coach (Cornell) Jackson is teaching them to run really, really hard. I think that's the biggest area we've improved in the last couple practices, probably the tailback position."

Redshirt freshman Rick Schmeig is "competing to be a starter," Hope said, calling him one of the team's most improved players.

Hope said Chris Carlino's injury is a "slight hamstring pull," which opened the door for Beckford to get some first-team practice time at middle linebacker.

Freshman running back Al-Terek McBurse has been held out of some recent practices because of a minor groin injury and what Hope called a "collision injury." All this after missing the entire spring due to an eligibility hold-up.

Nevertheless, Hope said he thinks the highly regarded freshman can still carve a niche in Purdue's seemingly crowded backfield.

"We'll see what happens with Al-Terek," Hope said. "He's a great player and a great prospect. He'll be a difference-maker for the Boilermakers. I have no question about that, that he's a guy we can win a championship with. Whether that'll be this year, I don't know yet.

"But the little bit of him I saw in drills today, he's very, very talented."

Cornerback Mike Conway has left the team for medical reasons.

"He's taken some hits," Hope said, not wanting to use the word "concussions", "and he's better off not participating any more in college football. That's a loss to our football team. He's a guy who really came out there every day and led by example."

Hope said long snapper Andy Huffman's elbow problem will keep him out for several more weeks.

John Finch, who snapped in Huffman's absence for the back half of last season, is well positioned in that role, though.


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