I just can't see the Boilermakers going anywhere fast in 2009.
The Black and Gold spring game Saturday showed a football program in retooling mode. That's not necessarily a bad thing. When you finish 4-8, you need some retooling. But it will require patience from the Purdue faithful.
Hope provides hope, but it may be a while before he delivers a Big Ten contender.
The biggest positive is that he has his players' full attention.
Joe Tiller pulled a Purdue program out of mediocrity and pushed it into a solid bowl contender during his first several seasons. He was among the best coaches in school history. But the last couple of years saw some slippage, and maybe a drop in intensity as Tiller reached retirement. Hope's job is to turn that negative momentum around.
“As a head coach, (Hope) has his own philosophy of how he wants things done and what the tempo should be,” Purdue cornerback Brandon King said. “Coach Tiller was more laid back and let the coaches do everything. Coach Hope is right there with us, right on the field. If you mess up, he's going to pull you out individually and tell you what you did.”
King wasn't trying to disrespect Tiller, he was simply pointing out the difference in the two coaches' styles. There comes a time when football programs need a fresh voice, and Purdue's time is now.
“(Hope) brings more of a passion and he's more enthusiastic,” King said. “He's a lot more vocal.”
As for the team, every program starts with the quarterback, and Hope hit a setback early when the expected starter, Justin Siller, was dismissed for academic reasons. That left fifth-year senior Joey Elliott and redshirt freshman Caleb TerBush to compete for the job.
Teams rarely contend for Big Ten titles with first-year quarterbacks, except under unusual circumstances. In the spring game, Elliott started with the No. 1 offense and TerBush ran the No. 2 offense. Later, TerBush took some snaps with the first team.
The result was mixed. Both quarterbacks showed some promise. Neither displayed an elite-level performance that would ease worries. Elliott completed 20 of 33 passes for 193 yards, while TerBush completed 16 of 34 for 185 yards. Elliott threw one touchdown pass and both quarterbacks were picked off once.
“We were making it hard on Joey because we're so experienced (on defense),” King said. “He does a good job. He doesn't panic.”
Elliott underwent shoulder surgery last year, which left some doubt in Hope's mind about how ready he would be to handle the starting load. But Hope said his mind is more at ease now.
“We're getting better at quarterback,” Hope said. “I like what I see from Joey Elliott.”
It's hard to judge accurately from a spring game, but it appeared the Purdue defense enters the summer more stable than the offense. Although the offense won the spring game 36-29, the scoring system was a bit stacked in favor of the offense.
Seven starters are expected back for Purdue on defense, while only four starters return on offense. The Boilers lost almost every skill-position player on offense, including quarterback Curtis Painter, running back Kory Sheets and the two top receivers, Greg Orton and Desmond Tardy.
It's almost certain Purdue will be picked to finish in the bottom half of the Big Ten this fall. Too many holes exist on both sides of the ball, even with seven defensive returnees.
The one asset Hope can guarantee is energy. At this point, at least, he has convinced his players they are within sight of being a contender.
“We're expecting to win the Big Ten,” King said. “Our expectations are to go to a great bowl this year, because of Coach Hope. The talent was there last year, and it's been there since I've been here. We've never had anybody to let us unleash that.”
King sounds confident, but that's a byproduct of spring practice.
As far as Purdue's football program being “unleashed” as a contender this year, I'll believe it when I see it.