Shortly after Darrell Hazell’s first practice as Purdue’s head coach, he was asked which players he was watching. With a big grin on his face, Hazell offered a simple answer.
“Everybody,” Hazell said.
When Hazell first met with the Boilermakers, he emphasized competition. His point was that nobody has a starting job locked up.
Before Purdue’s first spring practice on Tuesday, the team’s depth chart was mixed up considerably. Some of the usual starters were now on the second string and vice versa. Even three-year starter Ricardo Allen found his name away from his usual spot as the top cornerback.
“They don’t care who you are, they just want to see you make plays,” Allen said.
Spring drills offer any program the chance to learn about its new team and establish a depth chart. With an entirely new coaching staff at Purdue, it’s a little different. Hazell and his assistants must learn about their personnel while seeing it live for the first time.
For 15 practices in the spring, the Boilermakers are working to make a good first impression.
“Everybody has a clean slate,” said senior defensive end Ryan Russell. “Even if you just got here or redshirted, you’re on the same playing field as everybody else. You’re getting the same opportunities.”
Competition is something the Boilermakers have embraced. The urgency has been ever present, from the start of winter workouts and now moving into spring drills.
“I feel like everybody’s competing,” Allen said. … “Nobody’s a one, nobody’s a two, nobody’s a three; everybody who touches the field a starter.”
Throughout the workout, Hazell moved swiftly between drills in order to take in the action. The assistants took each moment between reps to communicate—either praising a positive or conveying how to correct an error.
“You never get to see it all,” added Hazell. “That’s why you study the film. We’ll watch the film and make some adjustments.”
The competition is especially prevalent at the quarterback position, where new offensive coordinator John Shoops works to evaluate as many as four different starting candidates. Fifth-year senior Rob Henry is the only quarterback returning with game experience, but redshirt freshman Austin Appleby and Bilal Marshall plus true freshman Danny Etling are challenging for the job.
On day one of the spring, Henry took the first rep, but would work in with each of the three freshmen. The battle is underway.
“Each of us are pushing ourselves,” Henry said. “We’re all trying to establish ourselves to the new coaching staff. It’s all going well.”
While Purdue’s new coaching staff evaluates its personnel, the players will work to wage position battles. No spot on the depth chart is safe, not in the spring.
“If you want to play,” Allen said, “this is your time.”