Purdue players spent three days of practice this week — Monday-Wednesday — in "underwear," as some coaches call it: Helmets and no pads.
It may be a unique approach for a bye week, but it was a necessary one considering the current state of Purdue's roster. A handful of starters were banged up entering the Michigan game — linebackers T.J. McCollum and Ja'Whaun Bentley and left tackle Grant Hermanns all were game-time decisions but played — and the list got longer after it.
Quarterback David Blough has an injury to his throwing shoulder and defensive end Austin Larkin has an apparent ankle injury, just to name a few.
So Coach Jeff Brohm catered his bye week to his team's needs and went ultra light before giving the team Thursday, Friday and Saturday off.
"Every year is different," Brohm said Wednesday. "You have to base it on the team you have and where you’re at and what you need to do. At this point, our guys have played hard. They’ve laid it on the line. They’re giving great effort. And that’s been a positive. To be quite honest, we’ve had some guys nicked up and injured that we’ve got to have back. Some are really good players and we need them on the field. We want to make sure we get those guys healthy and we want to make sure really everybody on the team is refreshed. And while we’re out here practicing, it is lighter. Basically when we come back full go on Sunday, I want to make sure everybody is hungry and ready to go."
Players said they appreciate Brohm's "player-coach" approach.
The bye week hasn't always meant shorter practices — Purdue's veterans went for about an hour Tuesday and Wednesday.
Right tackle Dave Steinmetz said these coaches just have a pulse on this team.
"We're in helmets, and it's a bye week. Usually, we’re like back in camp, we’re hitting," Steinmetz said. "I think we recognize them taking care of us, and it makes us want to play even harder for those guys."
But lighter, shorter practices don't mean unproductive ones.
Even during season, Brohm has run efficient practices, expecting game tempo and pristine work with high effort level. Whether the pads are on or not.
So though players enjoyed the final day of practice before Minnesota prep goes full-go Sunday — after the team finished with sprints, D.J. Knox and Ja'Whaun Bentley flipped roles and Knox tried to cover Bentley on a route out of the backfield (Bentley made the catch) — they also feel like they got good work in.
"We’re still very active," cornerback Josh Okonye said. "At the same time, we’re working on more of the technical aspect of the game right now, make sure we come back and ready to play with everybody on the team that we need.
"Every coach has their own style to handle a bye week. We had a lot of banged-up players, so we needed a lot more time off our feet. We still have a long season ahead of us. The last thing we want is to aggravate injuries we have now. So Coach wants us to heal up, and that’s the most important thing right now."
• Brohm said he doesn't think any of the injuries are season-ending-type in nature.
"Hopefully most of them are back by the Minnesota game," he said. "There may be a couple that take a little longer."
Among those "longer" are potentially Larkin and running back Tario Fuller, who had a boot on his left foot Saturday.
• When asked if he had an injury similar to Blough's — which Brohm called a "slight AC sprain" on Tuesday — Brohm said he had something more severe.
"I had a third-degree, had surgery," said Brohm, a quarterback at Louisville before spending time in the NFL. "He had the least (severe), I think you can have, first-degree, the AC separation.
"Hopefully by Sunday, I would think, he would be ready to throw. If not, we’ll adjust. But I’m hoping he’ll be ready to throw on Sunday."
• Brohm said he was disappointed in himself following the Michigan game, considering the Boilermakers generated only 10 yards in the second half. Brohm is the offensive play caller.
"I tried a few things, moving the pocket, some rub routes. Seemed like any time we actually did get open, unfortunately we were sacked and it took a little too long," he said. "That was the problem you run into. You try to create some things to get open, but you can’t hold them long enough. If you try to get it out too quick, they’re not open yet. You’ve got to have the perfect balance and figure out a way to get guys open. Then you’ve just got to make plays. Our quarterback got hit more than he has — both of them — and we had a hard time blocking their athletic front. Certain guys didn’t play as good as they could have. We can get better from that.
"But it was a good learning experience because we definitely got exposed in certain areas."
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