Jeff Brohm deemed his first spring ball session at Purdue as a productive one, largely because he and his staff were able to identify the level of talent in the program.
Simple being aware of the areas that need considerable development and others that can be more focused on building depth was helpful.
But that knowledge wasn’t necessarily encouraging.
It was obvious that there is “plenty of work to do,” Brohm said Monday to a group of reporters for a post-spring review session.
“We’ve got to utilize the guys we have to the best of our ability, got to try to get some of these others guys able to improve and give us something and be ready to play when their number is called. That’s all coaching. So that’s what we’re going to have to do,” Brohm said. “Is (the talent) where we want it? No, it’s not. But we’ve got to play with the cards we’re dealt and try to make it work.”
The greatest strides this offseason likely need to be made by the receiving corps and line on offense and the secondary on defense.
Though Brohm said the first-team offensive line made progress throughout the spring’s 15 practices and about six weeks of work, it’s still a unit that needs tremendous growth. It’ll have to continue with strength and conditioning gains over the offseason, though actual game-like reps against an active front seven would be incredibly helpful, too. More than anything, maybe, that first unit needs snaps, considering center Kirk Barron and left guard Mike Mendez are the only ones with any real game experience. Even then, neither has started more than one game in multiple seasons. Walk-on Eric Swingler is entering his fourth year, so he may be the most physically developed, but he’ll need to get quicker if he’ll truly line up on the edge in the fall. Perhaps that’s where Matt McCann, who missed all team reps this spring coming off surgery, will end up, but McCann needs to make physical gains this offseason, too.
Redshirt freshman Grant Hermanns, who worked exclusively with the 1s at left tackle, may be the best model. He added about 30 pounds in his first year to get to about 295 while also boosting his squat by 200 pounds from Day 1 until spring and his bench press increased about 70 pounds over the same time period. But Hermanns knows he’s nowhere near done: “Of course, I still need to be stronger, I still need to be bigger. Where I want to be in season is about 305, 310 and just be really, really strong because those D-ends in the Big Ten are really big and they’re fast.”
And though Purdue’s defensive interior has a pair of legitimate Big Ten players in Gelen Robinson and Eddy Wilson, one could argue the O-line wasn’t even particularly challenged this spring and still struggled mightily at points.
And don’t even mention the backups to Brohm.
“That’s a concern,” he said, likely holding back, considering the second- and third-team units allowed nine sacks.
A developing offensive line certainly made it difficult at points for Brohm’s offense to function efficiently, but that wasn’t the only reason.
The receiving corps did not produce consistently.
Not just in showcasing playmakers but in simply catching the ball consistently, aligning properly consistently and running precise routes consistently.
Part of that could be attributed to the lack of experience there. Other than senior Gregory Phillips, few of the options have real significant game reps, and a handful of receivers found themselves on the sidelines this spring with injuries. Freshman D’J Edwards missed almost the entire spring, as did Jarrett Burgess, and Phillips and Anthony Mahoungou missed periods, too. Sophomore Terrance Landers missed half the spring with an academic issue.
“I’d like our receiver position to be stronger, from top to bottom. I have concerns there, to be nice about it,” Brohm said Monday. “We’ve got to work hard at improving that area. I do think there were some strides. We had quite a few guys miss because of this injury or that injury, but there were some strides toward the end of spring practice but a long way to go.”
That combination of inexperience — on the line and on the perimeter — could mean Brohm’s offense isn’t exactly Brohm’s offense in Year 1.
“Maybe we can’t throw the ball quite as much as we would like,” Brohm said.
Purdue will get help, at least in terms of bodies, in the fall at receiver with two junior college transfers and Notre Dame transfer Corey Holmes, but it’ll likely still need players on its current roster to rise and get snaps.
Phillips and Jackson Anthrop, a redshirt freshman, were two players specifically Brohm said he thought showed improvement over the spring and could be counted on in the fall. So that’s something.
“Greg Phillips had a good last week. It was good to see that. He’d struggled a little bit before that,” Brohm said. “I think Jackson Anthrop will be a productive player for us. He works hard. You can coach him hard. It was his first spring and we’re going a fast tempo. I think he’ll know it when he needs to know it.
“The other guys, there are certain guys who stood out at times, but a lot of those guys practiced some days, didn’t practice others. Some guys aren’t real natural playing the receiver position. That hurts them somewhat. Beyond those two, we’ve just got to develop more guys and increase the competition and see if we can get the most out of what we have.”
After watching Nick Holt’s defense this spring, Brohm said he thought that unit “has a chance” to be very productive, but that’d be based on its starters. Brohm is concerned about the lack of depth across the board on defense, which means ability to play hard — and well — into the second half of games could be a factor.
Brohm said he thinks Purdue has some playmakers on defense, especially its linebackers, and likes the guys up front “when they’re healthy.”
But the back half of the defense can use work on the first unit — help is coming there, too, in the form of a grad transfer — and especially with the backups.
That’s the case for the entire team, too.
"I think some of the guys we have as far as developing depth, they’ve just got to continue to get repetitions," Brohm said. "They’ve got to be thrown in the fire and see how they do. Certain guys made strides, and I feel good about them and they worked hard. We have to find a way to keep that improvement going on throughout the rest of the spring and the summer throughout fall camp. Certain guys that you may not think are ready may have to play. But that’s fine. You’ve got to instill confidence in them. We’ve got to get them in the best condition we can. We have to get them believing in their head they can achieve it if they work hard at it. You’d be surprised what you can get accomplished if they know they’re going to be given an opportunity and a chance. The guys I have, we like them. So we’re going to work with them and do their part."
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