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COLUMN

Purdue's football road back starts now

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For more on college sports, follow Pete DiPrimio via Twitter at www.twitter.com/pdiprimio

Recruiting tops priority list

Tuesday, December 3, 2013 - 5:51 am

Darrell Hazell is on the recruiting road. He has no choice. There is much to do to rebuild this Purdue football program, especially when it has reached an on-field performance level never before seen (in a very bad way). Getting more talent is the No. 1 priority.

So what is Hazell looking for in the aftermath of 1-11 misery?

Aldon Smith.

Specifically, Aldon Smith look-alikes.

Who's Aldon Smith? He's the San Francisco 49ers' standout defensive end, the 2011 NFL rookie of the year after totaling 14 sacks. He's like 6-4, 263 pounds and almost Usain Bolt fast.

Almost.

Anyway, Smith has a few off-the-field issues (multiple arrests) Hazell wants no part of, but that's the physical standard the Boiler coach seeks. Smith wears No. 99, a number that resonates with Hazell.

Coaches will try to recruit that kind of player -- they potentially already have one with defensive end Gelen Robinson, the 6-1, 231-pound son of former Boiler basketball great Glenn Robinson -- but they'll also try to develop them from the current roster.

“I told our staff, I want to do Project 99,” Hazell said. “I told them, I want you to take two or three NFL players (at the position you coach) who do it the right way. I want our guys to study those guys in the off-season. I want the great running backs, linebackers, all of those positions. This will be an off-season study for our guys.”

In other words, quarterback Danny Etling should study Drew Brees, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. Receiver DeAngelo Yancey should study Calvin Johnson and A.J. Green. And so on.

“The other thing is we've got to develop,” Hazell said. “We've got to get bigger and faster and get a lot stronger.”

As far as recruiting, Hazell has 10 commitments for the Class of 2014. That number will at least double by the February signing period. The priorities are offensive and defensive linemen (junior college players would be a quick fix), linebackers, defensive backs and at least one running back.

Coaches have now until Dec. 15 to be on the recruiting road and the Purdue staff is maximizing every minute. Hazell's flight to destinations unknown started at 10 Sunday morning. His staff is on the road with him. Everyone is set to return -- briefly -- on Friday for a recruiting weekend and the team postseason banquet. Then it will be back on the road.

“We've got to get players in,” Hazell said. “That's huge. We have to do a good job with organization, making sure we have everything on point.”

Purdue expects 16 players to make official visits this weekend. The team banquet is also scheduled for then. So is a Boiler basketball game against Eastern Michigan.

“We have 16 guys, and we'll probably have 40 or 50 family members coming with them,” Hazell said. “That's a big weekend and it's coming on fast.”

The recruiting period will end in the third week of December, giving coaches less time than before. The dead period is longer, going from Dec. 16 until Jan. 16. Then coaches can be on the road until the Feb. 5 signing day.

“It's a little bit tougher now,” Hazell said. “We're going to have to hustle and get to a lot of places in those two weeks.”

Purdue got some offensive positives from Saturday's 56-36 Oaken Bucket loss at Indiana. The Boilers scored more points and totaled more yards (516) than they had all season. Etling had a career-game by going 33-for-49 for 485 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions.Yancey had a career-high 11 catches for 125 yards. Danny Anthrop caught five passes for 151 yards.

Granted, it came against probably the nation's worst defense, but that doesn't cloud a potentially point-happy future. Etling will get better. So will freshman such as Yancey, left guard Jason King and right guard Jordan Roos. In fact, seven offensive starters and seven defensive starters will return.

That's fine, but here's another top priority for next season -- Purdue HAS to find a running game. The Boilers rushed for 31 yards against an Indiana defense that allowed 256. They barely averaged 60 rushing yards a game. That's ridiculously bad.

The defense was equally poor. IU gained 692 yards and was 16-for-18 on third-done conversions, which reflected a season in which the Boilers rivaled the Hoosiers for defensive futility. That must be addressed, and it will with recruiting as well as current player development.

“We have to (rebuild) the right way,” Hazell said. “We'll give them a little time off, but then you have to get back in the weight room and start working out. Make sure we're doing the right things daily. And you have to get players in here who can make plays.”

We live in an instant-gratification world where things had better be done -- yesterday. Hazell understands this, just as he knows building something that will last can't be rushed. The Boilers likely will get younger before they get better.

“You don't put a time limit on it. I think we're going to develop very quickly as soon as we get some stability up front (in the offensive line) where (Etling) has a chance to sit back there and read defenses.

“These guys are getting better.”

It can't happen soon enough.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Pete DiPrimio at pdiprimio@news-sentinel.com.