The Purdue football coach is gearing up for his second season by maximizing every available advantage. Thanks to a NCAA rules change that allows college football coaches an extra eight hours a week to work with their athletes over the summer, accountability is high on his must-do list.
Yes, Hazell and his staff will use it to enhance strength training, conditioning and teaching — much like they do in the winter. Coaches will meet with freshmen one day a week (“so those guys will get caught up fast,” Hazell said) and then meet with the team one day a week to address overall needs.
But if the Boilers are to move up the Big Ten football chain — and you'd better believe that's the goal — it will take more than that.
Thus, the players-as-coaches concept.
“We want them to have kind of an accountability,” Hazell says. “There will be players' only meetings where they teach parts of the offense, defense and special teams.”
The idea is, if you teach it, you'd better know it, and if you know it, well, good things can happen.
Hazell leaves nothing to chance. Thus this year's program blueprint — “A Player's Manual” — is a man-building 621 pages. He boosts his philosophy with a Leave No Doubt theme.
He wasn't hired to produce Big Ten patsies, as last year's 1-11 team became due to extreme youth and coaching/system transition from the Danny Hope era.
Athletic director Morgan Burke has made it clear he wants a Rose Bowl, which hasn't happened to the Gold & Black since 2001 under then coach Joe Tiller. Hazell fully embraces that. He has an Ohio State championship pedigree and a Kent State turnaround on his resume.
Last year's Purdue debut didn't reflect the program he is building given the Boilers were young as you don't want to be. The result was a 1-11 record that was bad in the short term (Purdue was at or near the Big Ten bottom of nearly every offensive and defensive stat), but potentially beneficial in the long-term given all the experience gained.
“It will pay huge dividends,” Hazell says. “You saw it in the spring time. Guys just look so much more comfortable running around.
“There's nothing like experience. There really isn't. If you have talented guys with experience, whether they're young or old, it doesn't matter. If they're talented and experienced, that's a deadly combination.”
That combination includes veterans such as safety Landon Feichter (the former Bishop Dwenger standout), running back Raheem Mostert (the Big Ten's fastest football player who won multiple conference sprint titles this spring), center Robert Kugler (last year's team offensive MVP) and quarterback Danny Etling (although last year's freshman starter is battling Austin Appleby and David Blough for the No. 1 spot).
Purdue supplements that with a newcomer class that features four offensive linemen, four defensive backs and three defensive linemen. Three of them — Blough, offensive lineman Kirk Barron and defensive end Langdon Newton — enrolled early last semester. The rest, including highly touted linebacker Gelen Robinson, are now participating in summer workouts.
Does Hazell envision any making instant impact?
“They'll be thrown into the mix pretty quickly (during August preseason camp),” he said. “We'll find out in the first four to five days which guys can help us, whether that's a starting role, a backup role or special teams.
“We have some specific needs. Offensive line was one of them. Linebacker was another. We did sign some corners. Those are the three positions that we'll look at to determine which guys will be on the field.”
The 6-2, 230-pound Robinson is an intriguing prospect. The son of former Boiler basketball All-America Glenn Robinson, he was an all-state football player, a two-time state wrestling champion and a field event state titlist at Lake Central High School.
“The thing that he can't do is come in and press,” Hazell said. “He's a very gifted player. You watch him run to the ball, and it's instinctual. He's fast. He's physical. He has all the tools to be a good player.
“Again, he can't press. He has to learn the system.
“I told our coaches I don't want good players standing on the sideline. If we have to take a little bit out of the package to get those good players on the field, and if he's one of those good players who emerges quickly, then we have to find a way to get him on the field and not handcuff him with the scheme.”
Robinson's multi-sport background is becoming more and more rare in these specialize-in-one-sport times.
“When you when evaluate the tape you watch football ability,” Hazell said, “but I think it's a gift to do some of those things he's able to do.”