Gabe Holmes is no Dustin Keller when it comes to Purdue tight ends, but then, neither was Keller when he was a sophomore.
Keller developed into a 2008 first-round pick by the NFL's New York Jets, and if you believe Boilers coach Danny Hope, Holmes also has pro potential. The 6-4 sophomore showcased some of that with his 40-yard touchdown catch in Monday's practice.
“Gabe is a fantastic player,” Hope said. “He has a chance to be a special player.”
Holmes was mostly a special-teams player last year, but he's had a huge weight (up to 250 pounds) and strength gain (Hope said he bench-presses 370 pounds, 150 more than when he came to Purdue) to go with impressive quickness. Hope said by the time he's a senior, Holmes could weigh 260 pounds, benchpress 440 pounds and run a 4.5-second 40-yard dash.
“There aren't many tight ends at the (NFL) Combine who can do that,” Hope said.
There also aren't many tight ends whose father competed in the Olympics. Holmes' father, Walter, was a U.S. long jumper who competed in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.
“Gabe has to get his technique and assignments down to a science,” Hope said, “but he is very fast. He makes people miss in space or he can run them over. Last year he was not a good blocking tight end. Now he shows signs of being a good blocker.”
Purdue players put on the shoulder pads for the first time on Monday. Full pads, and live hitting, is set to start Wednesday.
Purdue lost one defensive end when redshirt freshman Rashad Frazier never reported to camp. That leaves Ryan Russell as the likely backup to starters Gerald Gooden and Robert Maci. Defensive tackle Ryan Isaac is getting action at defensive end, with another defensive tackle, Bruce Gason, as another end possibility as the Boilers look to build depth there.
Normondo Harris is back at cornerback after spending the spring at wide receiver. He provides depth at one of Purdue's strongest positions. Hope continues to praise the abilities of starters Josh Johnson and Ricardo Allen.
“They can be as good a pair of cornerbacks as there is in the Big Ten,” he said.
Harris and Johnson both had interceptions during Monday's practice.
“Ricardo was better (on Sunday) than he ever was,” Hope said. “Josh can be a great player. They both can take some big steps. They're hungry to do it.”
Don't be surprised if freshman receiver Raheem Mostert earns playing time this season. Hope calls him one of the team's fastest players. Add redshirt freshman Charles Torwudzo to a starting group of Justin Siller, Antavian Edison and O.J. Ross, plus veteran Gary Bush, and Purdue has the foundation for a strong rotation.
Quarterback Robert Marve isn't at full strength after last season's knee surgery, his second in less than a year. Doctors took a tendon from his right knee to repair the damaged left knee.
“He has to manage that on his own because we can't read his mind,” Hope said. “It's not the surgical knee, it's the donor knee, the one they took a spare part from, that he's struggling with soreness.
“It's concerning. He's really important to us. He still has some recovering to do, but he's much further ahead than he was last year from the shoulders up.”
Finally, Purdue beat out Indiana, among others, to get a commitment from Florida cornerback Anthony Brown. Iowa State, Washington State, Ball State, Alabama-Birmingham and Western Michigan also had sought the 5-11, 185 pounder. Brown is Purdue's 11th oral commitment for the Class of 2012 and the third from Florida.