WEST LAFAYETTE -- There is no confusion. Let's get that straight. Caleb TerBush is No. 1 among Purdue's quarterback equals. He is the starter. The fifth-year senior will take the field first when the Boilers open their season Saturday against Eastern Kentucky.
If everything else about this three-quarterback rotation remains murky, that does not.
“As long as we're winning games,” he says, “the rotation doesn't matter.”
TerBush is confident now. That's what a year's experience as the starting quarterback, as a guy who helped lead Purdue to a bowl victory, a player who didn't throw an interception in his last 4 ½ games, can do. He knows the intricacies of the offense now. He recognizes defenses better. He doesn't rattle. He leads.
“I'm impressed by his calm demeanor,” coach Danny Hope says. “He has a confidence about him. He has an air about him. He manages the offense well. He's bigger and stronger. He's reduced his body fat. Pro scouts are surprised at how he looks now.”
TerBush is 6-5 and 225 pounds. He can see over the line without having to move to find throwing lanes in the manner of, say, former Boiler great Drew Brees, who is five inches shorter.
“My height is a huge advantage,” TerBush says. “You don't have to look above anyone. You can just stand there and be comfortable and scan things. I see what I can and go from there. It makes things easier.”
Last season was TerBush's first as a college starter and his first significant playing time since high school. He redshirted as a college freshman, played in just one game the next year, sat out the next season because of academic issues.
He was projected as the third-string quarterback last year, but then Rob Henry blew out his knee and Robert Marve was slow to recover from his own knee injury. TerBush became the starter while splitting time with Marve. It took him a while to settle in. He finished with 1,927 passing yards, 13 touchdowns and six interceptions. He completed 61.7 percent of his passes.
“I became more comfortable later in the season,” he says. “Early on it was my first season starting and I had to get used to the speed of things. As it went on I was able to pick up more tendencies of the defense and take advantage of them. I hope to do even more of that this year.”
That includes exploiting the audible freedom from offensive coordinator Gary Nord.
“If we have a play we don't think will work out well against the defense, we can switch out of it,” TerBush says. “At the beginning of last season, I didn't switch too much. Toward the end I got more confident and I was able to change things here and there to put us in a better position to get a better play. I hope to do even more of that, build on that and put us in even better position.”
TerBush has always been efficient with his passing. As a high school senior at Metamora Township in Illinois, he threw for 16 touchdowns against just three interceptions and led his team to a 14-0 record and the Class 5A state championship.
Now he's looking to lead Purdue to the Big Ten title game, and more. One key will be improved accuracy. He says he'd like to be closer to 70 percent.
“It's about consistency,” he says. “Coaches are always telling us Drew Brees would be in (Mollenkopf Athletic Center) day after day, just throwing and throwing. He was making sure his form was perfect every time. That goes in part with how accurate he is. It's that repetitive nature and being consistent with your form and technique. It works out in the consistency end.”
TerBush is No. 1 with the understanding that Marve and Henry also will play quarterback. How that will work remains uncertain, but rivalry and tension are not in the picture, TerBush says.
“I wouldn't say it's a challenge. It's a system Coach Hope wants to pick up on. He's the coach. What he says goes. We have to stick to it and believe in him that he's going to put us in the best position to win.
“We're all friends. We're with the brotherhood. With the quarterbacks all wearing green (jerseys in practice to signal they aren't to be hit), we have this Gang Green vibe going. It's been fun playing with them. I'm looking forward to playing my last season with them and ending with a bang.”
How much of a bang could they deliver? Veteran cornerback Ricardo Allen has an idea.
“TerBush is really accurate. He can look the safety off really well while another quarterback might stare at his receiver. Rob Henry, when he's out of the pocket, is really deadly. He can throw on the run. We have Marve, who can make every throw.
“Practicing against them prepares you for every type of quarterback.”
The three quarterback rotation is contingent on Henry's health following last season's ACL surgery. He battled a sore knee during preseason camp, and coaches don't want to push it too hard, especially early.
Still, Hope and Nord have made it clear that they don't want Henry standing on the sidelines. He'll play somewhere, perhaps in a Wildcat quarterback scenario, perhaps as a running back or a wide receiver.
No matter what, TerBush says, “That boy is such a freak athlete.He ran one of our faster times in the 40 this summer after coming back from a knee injury. That was a good sign. We're excited to have him back on the field. I'm excited to play with him again.”
TerBush also is excited about team prospects.
“We've got a lot of positive motivation from the bowl game. We're looking forward to making it back to a bowl.”