WEST LAFAYETTE -- Rob Henry has his speed back. Not even season-ending knee surgery could take that away. The Purdue junior quarterback runs and cuts, zigs and zags. Sometimes, he just blows past people.
Just like old times.
“I'm feeling good,” he says. “It's more the mental part. I was always mentally strong. I had a very good doctor in Dr. Andrews. I was confident in his work. I'm confident where my knee is at. There's no holding back or mental problem. I'm not hesitant in any way. I'm doing everything I was doing before I got hurt.”
Credit the healing power of youth as well as the skill of Dr. James Andrews, one of the nation's top orthopedic surgeons. Henry arrived at Purdue as a dual-threat quarterback, with the biggest threat coming via his running ability. Last season's knee injury threatened to take that away.
It did not.
Henry remains one of the fastest Boilers on coach Danny Hope's fastest team, which leads to the dilemma of what to do with him. He is ranked third on the depth chart behind Caleb TerBush and Robert Marve. Barring an injury, he will have no chance to win the starting job in preseason camp. Why? Because Hope has ruled the quarterbacks can't be touched, so Henry can only move up based on game production.
We know Henry will play this season. Will it be quarterback, running back, receiver or even punt returner? Will it be all of the above?
The answer is unclear.
“You'll have to ask Coach (Danny) Hope that,” Henry says. “I don't know. I have no idea. I could be anywhere.”
But there's only one place he wants to be.
“I'm a quarterback. There's no doubt. That's why I came here. That's what I want to do.”
Hope insists that Henry is, first and foremost, a quarterback.
“We have two senior quarterbacks (TerBush and Marve) who have played a lot, but we'll use him as a quarterback,” Hope says. “He'll compete. If he plays better than the others, he might play more than people expect.”
And if that is at another position, well, Hope won't hesitate.
“We'll put him anywhere he can help us win. He has such great skills we can use him at other positions. He's a willing soldier to do whatever it takes.”
Willingness, however, only goes so far. Henry has no enthusiasm for defensive work even though he did play safety in high school in Florida.
“Let those guys do what they do best -- keep the other team out of the end zone,” he said with a laugh. “I'm not sure how good I'd be at that.”
Henry was good enough to make an impressive college quarterback debut. In 2010, he became the first quarterback to lead Purdue in passing (996 yards, eight touchdowns) and rushing (547 yards, four touchdowns). Accuracy was a concern (53.1 percent). It remains a work in progress.
He was the No. 1 quarterback entering last year's preseason, but blew out his knee and became a spectator. Now he's back and, it seems, better than ever. Hope isn't about to led that athleticism stand on the sidelines.
“He's too good a player not to be on the field. He's able to take snaps and run at full speed. We have to be smart about the number of reps he gets in practice. I expect him to make a difference in the opening game.”
While all the quarterbacks are getting reps, Henry got more than Marve during last Saturday's 11-on-11 session because he needs more work. Missing all of last season, and then last spring, didn't help Henry's timing and technique.
“Reps are what counts,” he said. “That gets you going and gets your confidence up so on game days, you're ready to go.”
No matter how ready Henry is, he doesn't figure to be an every offensive down guy. Last year he watched games from the press box. This time it will be from the sidelines. Either way, it will provide him with a view to succeed.
“If I'm not starting, I can watch from the sideline and judge the speed of the game. I think it will help me in the long run. I think we'll see that on game days.”
As for the three-quarterback rotation, Hope says he has no qualms about playing any of them at any time.
“If Rob is in the huddle, the coaches and players are excited about that. If Caleb is in the huddle, they're excited. If it's Robert, it's the same. All three of those guys will impact the season.”
The only impact Henry wants is a big-time season.
"It's going to be a good year for us. We're extremely confident. We worked hard. It's looking good for us."