WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Rob Henry is not the chosen passing one. He does not project as a NFL quarterback; he likely will not symbolize, as Drew Brees has, the prototype Purdue quarterback.
Henry is the veteran in the Boilers' four-man quarterback race. As the only one with college experience, he has the spring practice lead in a wide-open competition with Austin Appleby, Bilal Marshall and Danny Etling. All are vying to impress head coach Darrell Hazell and offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach John Shoop.
The stakes are simple -- the starting job for Hazell's first Purdue team. The winner has these guidelines:
“They have to get us in and out of the right play; they've got to be accurate with the ball; and they can't turn it over,” Hazell said.
That would suggest a veteran guy, but you won't hear that from Henry. He'll let his performance speak for him with the 15 spring practices, the players-only summer sessions and August camp.
“My main goal is to learn as much as I can, to be able to recite the offense and know what each player does on every down and play,” he said. “I'll push myself to be the best I can as far as technique goes.”
Henry is a 6-2, 200-pound junior known for his speed despite a missed season because of a torn ACL. He is a dual threat quarterback -- improving his accuracy is a top priority -- versatile enough to play receiver or running back if it comes to that.
Last year, it did.
In 2010 Henry became the first Purdue quarterback to lead the team in passing and rushing. He completed 53.1 percent of his passes for 996 yards, eight touchdowns and seven interceptions. He rushed for 547 yards and four touchdowns.
He was the starter entering the 2011 season, but missed it all because of that torn ACL. Last year he was the third option behind Caleb TerBush and Robert Marve. He went 21-for-38 for 216 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. He caught six passes for 65 yards. He rushed for 74 yards and a touchdown.
That would give him a huge edge if the Boilers were running former coach Danny Hope's offense. They are not. It remains unclear exactly what kind of attack Hazell will run other than it will maximize the players' strengths.
For now, though, it's all about learning.
“It's totally different,” Henry said the new offense. “It's like the difference between Calculus 1 and Calculus 2. They're both calculus, but they're different.
“Right now I'd say it's harder (than the old offense) because I don't know everything yet. I revert back to my freshman year and how hard that offense was until I learned it. It's difficult now, but we'll get it done.”
As far as the competition, here's what we know. Appleby and Marshall are redshirt freshmen. Etling is a true freshman who enrolled at Purdue in January, skipping the spring semester of his high school senior year at Terre Haute South.
Appleby has NFL size at 6-5 and 235 pounds. At 6-3 and 170 pounds, Marshall does not. Appleby is a pro-style quarterback known for his passing. Marshall has good speed and makes plays more as a runner.
The 6-3, 215-pound Etling projects as the quarterback of the future. He's a four-star prospect rated as the nation's No. 9 pro-style quarterback. Enrolling early to participate in spring practice gives him a better chance to win the starting job, but guarantees nothing.
Just ask transferring Notre Dame quarterback Gunner Kiel.
“The competition is for everybody,” Henry said. “Each of us is pushing himself. We're all establishing ourselves to the new coaches. That's fine. Everybody has to share snaps. You have to maximize the opportunities you have, which is something you have to do in games. Any time you have an opportunity, whether it's at Ross-Ade Stadium or another stadium, you have to maximize it. You only get so many plays in a game, so many reps in practice. You have to be ready for all those situations.”
Readiness starts with a fast approach. Hazell doesn't believe in methodical play. It's full speed all the time, and it started with winter conditioning under the direction of director of sports performance Duane Carlisle.
“It's a quick pace,” Henry said. “That's how Coach Carlisle trains us. It's uptempo. They don't want us out there and have time to think about it. They want us to hear the play and execute it. It's definitely pushing us.”
The pushing involves all the quarterbacks. Given Purdue's recent run of quarterback injuries, everyone has to be ready to go.
“The main message is about all of us knowing the information and the terminology,” Henry said. “Ever since I've been here, there's only been one year where the starting quarterback finished the year, and that was Joey Elliott my freshman year. One year the fourth-string guy had to play, so it's important for all of us to learn the offense and compete to be the best we can be.”
As far as the competition, in a recent scrimmage, Henry scrambled for a touchdown while Appleby threw for one. Purdue has another scrimmage on Saturday. It's open to the public with a 10 a.m. kickoff at Ross-Ade Stadium. It will be more of a game-like environment with the offense and defense having chances to score points, whether it's on touchdowns, field goals, fumbles, interceptions or blocked kicks.
Until then, the Boilers put in the time in the practice field and the film room.
For the quarterbacks, the film room is Priority No. 1.
“We have to be committed to it,” Henry said. “As a quarterback, if somebody asks a question about the offense, we have to be able to answer him. We have to give an answer on what they're doing and why they're doing it.
“It's not easy. If it was, anybody could do it.”