Danny Hope took Purdue to a bowl last season, temporarily removing some of the heat he faced.
But his hot seat will return if the Boilermakers struggle this fall, which makes this spring an important one for Hope and his team.
Purdue returns 15 starters, but there are questions about whether two of them, RB Ralph Bolden and G Peters Drey, will be healthy enough to play this fall. That makes it imperative for the Boilermakers this spring to develop some depth at tailback and along the offensive line, which was inconsistent last season.
Last season: 7-6 overall, 4-4 in Big Ten
Spring practice dates: March 7-April 14
Returning starters (minimum 7 starts last season):
Offense (8): RB Ralph Bolden, G Peters Drey, WR Antavian Edison, T Trevor Foy, WR O.J. Ross, C Rick Schmeig, QB Caleb TerBush, TE Crosby Wright
Defense (7): CB Ricardo Allen, LB Dwayne Beckford, T Bruce Gaston, CB Josh Johnson, LB Will Lucas, E Ryan Russell, T Kawann Short
Special teams (1): P Cody Webster
The highest priority for the Boilers on offense, though, is deciding on a quarterback. There are four quarterbacks on the roster who have started a college game, including Caleb TerBush, who started every game last season. He will battle sixth-year senior Robert Marve and junior Rob Henry for the starting job. Henry is the best runner of the trio, and that trait will earn him playing time, though he might not win the starting role. Marve, who began his career at Miami, never has lived up to his high school hype, and while injuries have hampered his cause, he never has been able to develop consistency.
Defensively, the Boilermakers have a remade staff. Coordinator Tim Tibesar arrives from the CFL, and his goal this spring is to introduce some 3-4 looks. It's important that Purdue get much tougher against the run. T Kawann Short should garner all-conference acclaim, but Purdue needs some pass rushers to step up. Some playmaking defensive backs also need to be found; Purdue had 12 picks last season, with just seven coming from players in the secondary.
The biggest problem: Quarterback. Hope insists having four quarterbacks who have started at least once is not a bad thing. It certainly provides some intrigue. Does Hope go with Caleb TerBush, who was forced into a starting role last season after a knee injury knocked projected starter Rob Henry out for the season? Or Robert Marve, whose own knee injuries kept him from performing to his potential last season? Or Henry, who is said to have responded well since surgery and wants to go this spring? Hope wants his quarterbacks to be more efficient, so that could be the decisive factor in his decision. It's likely Hope will use a two-quarterback system, choosing a pocket passer and a Wildcat-type quarterback to be on the field together at points.
On the spot: LB Dwayne Beckford. He is a talented linebacker who has gotten better in each of the past two seasons; he's not just focused on hitting people anymore, he's actually reading the offenses. But he was suspended for the bowl game for an off-the-field incident and remains off the team. He wants to return to the Boilermakers, and his presence on the field is crucial. If he can't get his act together, it'll hurt Purdue.
On the verge: DE Ryan Russell. He came along slowly last season as a redshirt freshman. He was consumed early with things such as learning where to line up and trying to handle the physicality of the game. Once he started picking up speed, a foot injury set him back. But Russell showed glimpses of potential throughout the season, and teammates and coaches raved about his ability to become the next great end at Purdue. To do that, Russell needs to continue to improve his technique and understanding of game plans. But he's quickly getting strong enough to hold up against the run and pressure the quarterback.
General overview: With three new coaches on the defensive staff, including a coordinator, Purdue's top priority in the spring will be installing a new defense. Tibesar's goal is to be "multiple," meaning he'll stick with a 4-3 base but also would like to be versatile enough to play 3-4 at times, depending on matchups. The No. 1 emphasis on offense will be to select a starting quarterback; though Hope would like to use two, he still wants a starter. But Purdue also will need to figure out what options it has to protect that quarterback, as it needs two new starting linemen. That could be tough in the spring with some potentially key contributors getting limited time while nursing offseason surgeries.
For more information on Purdue, go to GoldandBlack.com.
Other popular stories on Yahoo! Sports:
• Tourney Pick'em: Sign up and play today
• Tony Dungy: Peyton Manning's neck issues traced to Redskins' hits
• Clippers' feud with Clipper Darrell epitomizes franchise's blunders
• Alex Rodriguez steps up to challenge fellow New York Yankees
- Danny Hope