Expect Jones to return; how Purdue could fill for first-half suspensions

Stacy Clardie, GoldandBlack.com staff
Gold and Black
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Tom Campbell

More: Coaches self-evaluated team in bye | First Look: Minnesota

Purdue’s running game could get a boost with the return of starter Markell Jones, the team's leading rusher the last two seasons who has been out since injuring a knee in the season opener.

Coach Jeff Brohm seemed confident Monday Jones would be back on the field against Minnesota Saturday, and he hopes the junior can play a big role. Sounds like Jones will be given the opportunity to do so, especially considering Tario Fuller is a "long shot," Brohm said, to play this week with an undisclosed injury.

Entering Week 1 against Louisville, Brohm said Jones had a significant role in the game plan, but that was wiped away quickly when Jones took a helmet to the knee on a kickoff return. Unofficially, Jones played only four offensive snaps.

With Jones coming off the injury, Brohm isn’t quite ready to load up Jones with a big package against Minnesota, even though he said Jones has been practicing.

“I'd like to see him get out there and perform for us before I do a whole offense based around him,” Brohm said of Jones, who had 616 rushing yards as a sophomore and 875 as a freshman. “I think when he's healthy, he can be a very productive player for us. I want to see him on the field and I want to see him get out there and run around and make plays for us in a game situation, take care of the ball.

“I think he has it in him. It will be interesting to see him on the field this week, and hopefully he'll be a contributor for us and do a good job. I think he's itching to get out there, so that's a positive. We’ve got to find a way to utilize him.”

In other injury news:

• Brohm said he’s optimistic starting quarterback David Blough will be ready to play Saturday. Blough suffered an AC sprain to his throwing shoulder after being drilled into the ground by a defender late in the game against Michigan. Blough didn’t practice early last week but returned Sunday in a limited fashion, Brohm said.

“We’ll continue to track him this week, and hopefully he’ll be ready to play,” Brohm said.

Brohm wouldn’t say whether Blough would start against the Gophers, saying he’ll monitor the situation and make a decision late in the week. (That's nothing new: Brohm hasn't announced the QB before a game all season.) Elijah Sindelar started the season’s first two games and has played in all four, including leading the Boilermakers on their only scoring drives against the Wolverines.

• Brohm isn't sure if defensive end Austin Larkin (ankle) will play Saturday. Larkin, who has had a history of ankle injuries, got hurt in the first half against Michigan.

Moving pieces

With starters Ja'Whaun Bentley and Jacob Thieneman out for the first half against Minnesota after second-half targeting ejections in the last game, Purdue could shake up its defense to fill the spots.

It's possible Markus Bailey, who started at outside linebacker the first four games, could shift inside to Bentley's middle linebacker spot, Brohm said. If Bailey moves, perhaps Rob Simmons gets more snaps at Sam or Leo Danny Ezechukwu bumps back out to the outside spot, which he's played before. It's also possible freshman Derrick Barnes, who has backed up T.J. McCollum at weakside linebacker, could get reps in the middle in Bentley's place.

Theineman started the first four games at safety, and Purdue could go a couple directions to fill in for him in the first half. T.J. Jallow is healthy now, Brohm said, and he could step in. Or Antonio Blackmon, who recently moved from cornerback to safety and nickel, could get snaps in the back end. Or walk-on Brennan Thieneman, Jacob's brother, could slide into the spot, Brohm said.

"Without question, (Bentley and Jacob Thieneman) are two key components and two of our better players. They have been playing at a high level, really have been playing great. So we’re going to miss them in the first half," Brohm said. "Hopefully, other guys will step up and try to take advantage of the opportunity. We’re going to need them to. It’s going to be important those young guys who haven’t been in there as much play well and keep us in the football game until they can get back in the second half.

"We’ve got some options, just maybe they haven’t played as much. Hopefully, our guys step up and do a good job."

Appreciating Tiller

Brohm said he remembers watching Joe Tiller’s Purdue teams play an "exciting brand of football," but the first-year coach also appreciated the veteran coach's approach.

Tiller, Purdue’s all-time winningest coach, died Saturday. He was 74.

Brohm was asked Monday about Tiller's legacy.

“I think that his blue-collar approach, working hard to improve his team, to find ways to win, anyway or avenue he can, doing things the right way, treating people with respect, demanding respect of his players and vice versa, then giving it back; I think he was really a legend in the coaching profession, and he's somebody that everyone should try to mold themselves after,” Brohm said.

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