September 21, 2006

Cashing in

Dustin Keller's shown flashes before.

In the season-opener against Akron last year, the tight end caught two touchdowns passes, including one where he leaped high into the air, twisting his body around in the process, to nab a pass slightly behind him.

It was highlight worthy and a sure sign of an immense amount of potential. The dividends, however, were not immediate, as several nagging injuries throughout 2005 slowed him down.

A year later, the Lafayette Jefferson graduate is hoping to turn in a season's worth of consistency, with a dash of flash. After three games, that's exactly what he's provided, grabbing 12 passes (tied for second-most at Purdue) for 240 yards with a touchdown.

He had a career day against Ball State Saturday, showing off his big-play ability with four receptions for 148 yards with two touchdowns. A 69-yard catch-and-run, in which he eluded five would-be tacklers and dragged another 10 yards down the field, was one of the finest in Ross-Ade Stadium history. Because of his performance, he was named the John Mackey Tight End of the Week Wednesday.

"Everything is going really well," said Keller, who ascended to No. 1 on the depth chart this season after the graduation of Charles Davis. "I'm really where I want to be right now. The first two games were good, but the last one was obviously a really big game for me, as far as confidence and everything. I just want to be able to go into the Big Ten season and be able to do the same things."

As Coach Joe Tiller has said repeatedly over the past few months, the key for Keller is staying healthy. Last season, after his breakout against the Zips, Keller suffered a sprained ankle the following week against Arizona. Expected to be back seven days later against Minnesota, Purdue's coaching staff had installed an offensive game plan centered around Keller, only to find out just before kickoff that he would be held out. Though he played in every game the rest of the season, Keller had only 10 more receptions for 75 yards, with one touchdown.

So far this year, Keller says he's feeling fine.

"I haven't had any kind of lingering injury or anything like that this year, not even a bruise," he said. "I've been really blessed this year to not even have a bump."

A former wide receiver at Jeff, Keller seems to have now made the full adjustment to playing on the end of the line, both from a physical - he's now 6-foot-4, 244-pounds - and mental standpoint.

"He's improved in terms of his discipline, being where he's supposed to be, when he's supposed to be there," Tiller said, adding that Keller has also become a much better blocker. "That really helps your quarterback because it gives your quarterback a little more confidence in you. He has a tendency to look your way more often when, from a discipline point-of-view, you're where you're supposed to be."

Keller agrees, saying he previously didn't always had a solid grasp of what he was supposed to be doing.

"It's kind of frustrating at first," he said, "when you're only out there thinking and looking around, not knowing that the reason you're not able to play fast is because you really don't know the position and what you're supposed to do very well.

"With time, everything gets easier and easier. Hopefully that continues to go on."

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