Looking ahead: Purdue offensive line
The offensive line remains a work-in-progress for Purdue.
Line coach Dale Williams has done a good job cobbling together units his first three seasons on campus, but it has been a challenge. Williams didn’t inherit much veteran talent, and there weren’t a lot of bodies.
Slowly but surely, Purdue has added talent, but it takes time to develop and mature. The 2020 unit could be Williams’ best yet since arriving in West Lafayette with Jeff Brohm in 2017. But there’s still a lot to prove for an offense that finished last in the Big Ten in rushing in 2019 (83.3 ypg).
How anemic was the run game last season? Purdue averaged a meager 2.9 yards per tote and managed nine rushing TDs. Both totals ranked last in the Big Ten. And then there is this: Purdue rushed for only 999 yards in 2019, failing to reach the 1,000-yard plateau for the first time since 2013 (805) and just the second time since 1990 (612).
Purdue has an anchor at left tackle in fifth-year senior Grant Hermanns, who has made 27 career starts. The Albuquerque, N.M., native was a co-captain last year. And his leadership skills will be put to the test once again this spring as the lynchpin of a line that has a lot to prove.
After Hermanns, the line is racked with unknowns. That is why the staff has been shopping for grad transfer help. Colorado State tackle TJ Storment did a quick, bizarre dance with Purdue before detouring literally and figuratively for TCU. Purdue also courted Stanford’s Dylan Powell, who picked Indiana. Other grad transfer blockers—perhaps Stanford’s Devery Hamilton (Duke) and Henry Hattis (Arizona State)—surely have been courted by Purdue … but none have signed on. Stay tuned. This story isn’t finished.
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WHAT WE DON’T KNOW
Perhaps no position is causing more handwringing than center. Walk-on Sam Garvin, a junior, started the final seven games in 2019 after Viktor Beach was sidelined with a back issue. Beach, a junior, needs to get stronger and show he can stay healthy. True freshman Gus Hartwig is enrolled, but he would figure to need to add strength. He projects as the center of the future. Wild-cards to watch at center are redshirt freshman Spencer Holstege and sophomore Will Bramel.
If Bramel isn’t a factor in the pivot, he will be at right tackle, where he made nine starts in 2019 as a redshirt freshman. He also made a start at right guard. Bramel had some growing pains, but he showed promise, too. Have to figure he’ll claim a starting spot somewhere up front.
Sophomore Eric Miller is one to watch at tackle. He checks all of the boxes to be a prototype right tackle: Mammoth, strong, smart with some experience. Miller looks primed to blossom. Can he be kept out of the staring lineup?
Who will be the guards? Perhaps no young lineman elicits more excitement than redshirt freshman Cam Craig. He was the only true freshman o-lineman to play in 2019, playing 72 snaps vs. Indiana. Craig looks the part. He’s ready. Pencil him in likely to start at one guard slot.
The other guard? Junior Mark Stickford is back after starting the final seven games at left guard. He also made on start at right guard. Stickford is big and strong but a bit stiff. Perhaps Beach could slide to guard if he isn’t the center. Holstege also is a factor. And don’t forget about DJ Washington, who played in the first three games of 2019 before breaking a leg. How does the junior look?
Bottom line: Expect the line drama to continue into August camp.