Today, Rick Schmeig is Purdue's starting center. That much is certain. He likes to get rough. That much is certain, too, and if it stays that way, if the rest of the offensive line joins him, all things are possible even with renewed quarterback uncertainty.
But that gets ahead of the story.
Schmeig is the cornerstone of the unit that will key Boilers football success. As center, the junior holds that key. He helps run the blocking show, and finesse is not part of the deal.
“It's a physical line,” he says. “That's what we're all about. Physicality and conditioning is huge this year.”
Controlling the line of scrimmage is crucial for any offense, and these in-the-trench Boilers are determined to set the tone.
“The whole line has to take charge of the team,” Schmeig says. “Everybody goes as we go. We have to start practice off right, start the tempo off right every day. That gets everybody into it as much as we are.
“Then we have to do it in games. We have to control the tempo by how we go.”
As center, Schmeig must start things off, and that's where the twist has come. He was set to be left guard with Peters Drey at center. Drey played well enough last year while starting every game to earn honorable mention all-Big Ten honors. But when he arrived at camp banged up, Schmeig was moved to center, a few other switches were made and the offensive line clicked. So now Drey is at left guard. Nick Mondek went from right tackle to right guard. Justin Kitchens moved from defensive tackle to right tackle. Dennis Kelly stayed at left tackle.
Where does that leave veteran lineman Ken Plue? For now, his status remains uncertain while dealing with academic issues.
“We've got a lot of young guys playing, a lot of people moving to different positions,” Schmeig says. “We're becoming very versatile. Everybody is going 110 percent.”
That full-throttle approach includes communication. More than any other position, the linemen have to be in sync with each other as well as how the defense is attacking.
“We're all good friends and communicate well,” Schmeig says. “In the team room during meetings, everybody is on the same page. We're all shooting for that common goal.”
Schmeig leads the way, which is what you want from a guy listed at 6-3 and 320 pounds, although he says he's closer to 308.
“He's one of our top offensive linemen,” coach Danny Hope says, “and I wouldn't have made that statement a couple of years ago. He's worked hard to lose weight. He has a good motor. He's gotten strong in the hands and strong in the wrists. He has a thickness about him. He can hold his ground and take defenders on without getting knocked back. He's very important to us as a guard or a center. I'm not surprised to see him (do well at center).”
Schmeig has boosted his strength (he bench- presses “somewhere in the 400s”) along with his technique and tempo.
“In the Big Ten, there are a lot of big, strong guys, so you have to be prepared for that. And as far as technique, I try to do it right every time. If you go fast like we're trying to do, mistakes will always be made. But if you go fast, good things can happen.”
In the aftermath of quarterback Rob Henry's knee injury, which is likely to sideline him for the season, and the continued delayed recovery of Robert Marve from knee surgery, Purdue has started giving receiver Justin Siller work at third-string quarterback behind Caleb TerBush and Sean Robinson.
Siller arrived at Purdue as a quarterback, was switched to running back, switched back to quarterback and started three games in 2008, then was switched to receiver. Siller battled a foot injury much of last season, although he did play one snap at quarterback -– and reinjured the foot.
Hope said Siller would get practice quarterback snaps until Marve is ready to practice full-go. Marve has talked about being ready for Big Ten play, but Hope wants it sooner than that.
The last quarterback option would be to work in walk-on senior Spencer Dawson from Southwood High School in Indiana and Merrillville freshman Delapo Mccarthy (who was moved to receiver over the summer).
Despite the uncertainty, the Boilers remain determined to return to their winning ways after three straight losing seasons.
“That's the plan,” Schmeig says. “Every season is meant to be special. We've got to find our niche and make it happen.”