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September 12, 2006

Tuesdays With Tiller: Purdue football notes

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Purdue wants to get the ball to new wide receiver Selwyn Lymon, but its efforts thus far have been for naught.

Through two games, Lymon - a former blue-chip recruit who's starting now that senior Kyle Ingraham has been declared ineligible - remains without a catch.

He's been thrown to.

Against Indiana State, a deep ball thrown his way fell incomplete, despite him being able to get a hand on it in hopes of tipping it to himself as he fell down. Another throw against ISU fell incomplete.

This past weekend against Miami (Ohio), at least two passes were designed for him, but the first one was intercepted - his first college statistic came in the form of the tackle - and the second one resulted in QB Curtis Painter instead throwing to Dorien Bryant for a first down, Coach Joe Tiller said Tuesday at his weekly press conference.

Tiller said throughout the preseason that he expected Lymon to be rusty this season after sitting out his freshman year, though he said the sophomore has made considerable progress over where he was at the start of training camp.

"We've pushed him to the field," Tiller said of Lymon, who is starting over more experienced players. "Assignment-wise, he's probably not ready, but that's the way I am."

"The way" Tiller is this season is to put younger players on the field as much as possible early on in order to spur their development for later, as he's done with freshman Royce Adams returning punts and fellow rookie Chris Summers kicking.

For his part, Painter expects Lymon to be involved in the offense.

"It's difficult when he has as many routes and looks as we have," said Painter, who admits he has better chemistry at this point with Bryant and Greg Orton, because of sheer experience. "We're just a little rough around the edges and have to clean some things up."

Orton is Lymon's roommate. He likens Lymon's experience this year to his own in 2005. Orton played sparingly as a true freshman last season, catching only nine passes.

He broke out in the spring, though, and has already snared six balls for 114 yards, with a 43-yard touchdown against Miami on Saturday.

"He's been thrown into the fire," Orton said, "but he'll be fine.

"It's slowed down for him from where he was the first day of training camp. Everything was coming at him (then), the offense and everything. I think now that he's got a couple games under his belt, he knows what to expect. I just tell him to be patient and work on little things. That's all I did."

How'd It Happen?

It remains unclear exactly how starting cornerback Aaron Lane broke his shoulder blade in the first half against Miami.

"I saw the tackle (on film)," Tiller said, "but it's not real obvious. … and I asked Aaron about it and he said, 'I don't really know how this happened.'"

Lane is thought to be out for as many as eight weeks.

Looking Back

Clearly, Painter wasn't terribly pleased with his three-interception outing against Miami.

He said he'll do some extra studying this week to get to the root of the problem.

"It was some late decisions," Painter said, "then some bad throws."

End Rotation

With senior Anthony Spencer practically dominating thus far, Tiller noted that he'd like to cut down on the senior's snaps.

He said that of his top three ends - Spencer and juniors Mike McDonald and Eugene Bright - he'd like to see Spencer playing the most snaps, but not by much.

"We don't want to put Spence on the field and leave him there the whole game," Tiller said.

Bright has been struggling with some physical issues, and McDonald has ascended to the top of the depth chart opposite Spencer. He picked up his first sack in the fourth quarter against Miami (on third down no less).

"Michael's learning the game, and he's going to be a real good player next year," Tiller quipped. "He's not bad now. He's coming on, getting better each time out."

Two Kids

You might expect to see freshman converted quarterback Keith Smith at free safety this week against Ball State.

"There's a chance," Tiller said, smugly.

The 6-2, 205-pound Smith has been impressive in practice after moving to the secondary last week. He could spell fellow freshman Brandon Erwin, who's started the past two games at free safety.

Erwin earned a place in the field in large part by default, but also because of his speed and intelligence. He has only two tackles at this point.

"Brandon is going to be a better football player as he moves through the program," Tiller said. "Quite frankly, he's on the field before he should be."

Tiller has always called Erwin a "low-rep" player, a synonym for "fast learner."

"He may not make the play," Tiller said, "but he'll be in the right position."

Erwin stands to be a, "long-time starter at Purdue," Tiller said.

"Unless Keith Smith beats him out," the coach quipped.

On The 3-4

Though playing without any player who might fit the bill as a true nose tackle, capable of filling multiple gaps at the line of scrimmage, Tiller seems committed to at least continuing to try out the 3-4 defensive alignment used part-time against Miami.

"We're just trying to get more experience or some other guys on the field at linebacker," he said.

Tiller has said that the new defensive look could help keep opposing offenses off-balance, while adding that having a 6-3, 240-pound linebacker like Cliff Avril coming off the edge can offset some of the tradeoff between a 4-3 and 3-4.

Injury Updates

• The on-going saga with sophomore linebacker Jason Werner's back problems have finally reached the point where the possibility of him redshirting has finally snuck into public discourse.

"If we can't get him back with half the season left," Tiller said, "we'll probably not attempt to get him back."

Werner played sparingly on special teams as a true freshman, thus leaving him with a redshirt year remaining. He spent his rookie season at safety, but moved to linebacker in the winter.

• Linebacker Dan Bick's troublesome shoulder has held up better than both the player and the coach had expected.

Bick, who at one time was feared to require surgery in August, has taken injections to alleviate the pain in his surgically repaired shoulder.

"Sometimes they do and sometimes they don't," Tiller said. "In this case, it's worked."

Bick leads Purdue with 21 tackles.

Torri Williams underwent the first of at least two surgeries on his injured knee Monday.

"He'll need to have a period of time to recover (from the first procedure)," Tiller said, "then he'll have a second surgery."

Odds and Ends

• Tiller praised running backs Kory Sheets and Jaycen Taylor for their blocking.

Sheets had a key, highlight-reel-worthy block on an important third down, but Taylor was outstanding as well, Tiller said.

"If we were to give a sticker or reward for blocking," he said, "we'd have given it to Taylor."

• Despite a 23-yard shank, punter Jared Armstrong averaged 38.3 yards on three punts against Miami, on the heels of an Indiana State game in which one of his punts was blocked for a touchdown. On the next attempt, he dropped the snap and was dropped for a loss, setting up a second Sycamore TD.

"I think he's the type of guy who, because he hasn't been punting all his life, success will bolster (his confidence)," Tiller said. "I see him responding the way a young player would, even though he's a junior."

The junior college transfer did not take up punting regularly until he got to junior college.

• Tiller said he's been pleased with his offensive line to date, but noted that guards Uche Nwaneri and Jordan Grimes each missed some blocks.

• Tiller praised his defense for playing "extremely well" in the fourth quarter against Miami (Ohio).

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