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July 30, 2012

Countdown to Camp: Positions to watch

Leading up to Saturday's start of training camp, GoldandBlack.com will take an in-depth look at key areas of Purdue's football team.

As always, training camp should offer some spirited position battles.

Here's a look at which positions we'll be watching closely:

Strongside linebacker
Despite not participating in spring practice because of a suspension and, thus, losing a chance to practice in the new defense, Dwayne Beckford expects to resume his duties as starting linebacker. Will Lucas's spot at weakside linebacker also appears solid. But that leaves what could be an interesting competition for a third (and maybe fourth, depending on the alignment) linebacker spot.

Nnamdi Ezenwa is listed as the starter at strongside linebacker on the preseason two-deep with Armstead Williams as his backup. But Coach Danny Hope admitted last week that it's a position that's tough to get clarity on because of some of the injuries during the spring.

Though there's been much discussion about Purdue's new defense containing some 3-4 looks, it'd seem the lack of depth at linebacker would lend itself to more nickel packages with only two backers on the field.

Or using a 4-3 look that allows defensive end Robert Maci to slide into the Sam spot over the tight end and drop into coverage.

Offensive line
Purdue should have all its options healthy this camp, allowing coaches to finally find a mix up front and gain some continuity.

It'd seem that center Rick Schmeig, right tackle Trevor Foy and a presumed healthy left guard Peters Drey are set, leaving a heated race for the other two starting spots.

Justin Kitchens, who missed the spring while recovering from surgery, could be the left tackle and Kevin Pamphile could be at right guard.

But Cody Davis got rave reviews in the spring at the right guard spot, and Hope has said he likes Pamphile's potential at tackle. Pamphile did work some at tackle in the spring.

JUCO transfer Devin Smith also thinks he can play right away, so maybe he'll factor into the mix at tackle, too.

But if Kitchens, Pamphile or Smith don't progress, coaches could go for a massive shakeup.

Entering the spring, Hope said he considered Drey on of the team's top three tackles. So if Drey had to move to the edge, Schmeig could slide from center to guard, pushing redshirt freshman Robert Kugler to center.

Whatever the mix, Hope and his offensive coaches need to make a decision early in camp to allow a unit that's never played together to gain some cohesiveness.

Especially considering it's the team's most pivotal position for the fall.

Punt returner
Not exactly a sexy position but one the Boilermakers need someone to emerge.

Purdue is coming off back-to-back seasons averaging fewer than six yards per punt return.

Ricardo Allen thinks he'll get a chance to field some punts, and Antavian Edison could, too. The coaches seem to tend to lean toward a player with experience.

But there are supposed to be some talented freshmen coming in, too, and if one proves to be reliable, that could be enough for a chance.

Assuming Caleb TerBush, Robert Marve and Rob Henry all play well in camp, Hope says there won't be a shakeup in the depth chart before the season opener.

That'd mean TerBush gets the start against Eastern Kentucky.

But the quarterback debate will rage all season, especially if TerBush struggles one game and Marve excels.

It still seems likely that Henry is a situational Wildcat quarterback who occasionally lines up at receiver or running back.

For the first time, J.B. Gibboney will get to work with freshmen Thomas Meadows and Paul Griggs in camp.

He insists both players and walk-on Sam McCartney will have an equal chance to win the kickoff and field-goal kicking jobs.

Griggs said this summer he's expecting to kick field goals and get pushed by Meadows for kickoffs.

It'll be interesting to see how having a freshman kicker could change Hope's strategy. It'd seem less likely Purdue would for a long field goal rather than going for it on third-and-short.

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