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Gold and Black Illustrated, Vol 28 Digital 6

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GOLD AND BLACK ILLUSTRATED VOLUME 28, ISSUE 6 32 But at the same time, it's a challenge to go against him every single day and see what he has to bring. It's exciting. It really is. Even though he's younger than me, there's things I can learn from him and I'm also trying to help him along the way. So we kind of feed off each other." Certainly more options could emerge as camp and the season progress. Perhaps speedy Jarrett Burgess can stay healthy for the first time since he's been at Purdue and utilize what Blough called an NFL body (6-foot-3, 215). Perhaps sophomore KeyRon Catlett can build on special moments from the spring and provide pop. Perhaps freshman Kory Taylor gets a chance because he offers something no one else on the roster does: A 6-foot-5 frame on the outside. "I'm very excited. We've got a lot of competition right now," Sparks said. "It's going to make it better. Coach Shep talks about that every day. Me being the ultimate competitor, that's what I thrive on. That's what I want. That's what I need. Without competi- tion, there's complacency and failure." O-line Purdue lost only one starter from last season, but it was a pivotal piece in right tackle Dave Steinmetz, who missed only eight offensive snaps. And his departure is a position in which there is not a lot of experience. But, at least Purdue has options at the other spots. And versatil- ity to try to fill Steinmetz's void. Seven players on the roster have started at least one college game, and several have starts at more than one position. "I think we have the top offensive line in the Big Ten. Others might not agree with me. I don't care," center Kirk Barron said. "We're experienced. We've got guys from all over the country. … That's something big where this is the first time I think we've really had depth along the offensive line where we can trust the guy behind us. There's not that big of a drop-off. We're going to be able to be a catalyst for this offense to open up lanes for the running backs and give the quarterback as much time as possible." Ironman Barron, with his 26 consecutive career starts, is the unquestioned anchor of the group. Both in perfor- mance and in leadership. He should be selected a captain for the second time this fall. But how the line shakes out around Barron may be classified as TBD. NIU transfer Shane Evans started all 13 games at left guard last season, but he missed all the spring after hav- ing surgery to repair what Brohm called a "pretty exten- sive knee deal." The presumption is Evans will be ready for the season. If not, Mike Mendez would be primed to step in after being a backup last season, but Mendez also has started three games at tackle in his career. Matt McCann has been a versatile starter, too, lining up for all 13 at right guard last season after 10 at right tackle the year before. It's likely McCann will bounce back to right tackle — perhaps in a starting role — with the anticipated arrival of Dennis Edwards. The Western Ken- tucky graduate transfer hadn't officially signed with the Boilermakers as of late June but announced his inten- tions on Twitter to enroll, and Edwards probably will slide into that right guard spot. Grant Hermanns should move back into starting at left tackle, a position he held for the first six games as a red- shirt freshman before being forced out with a torn ACL. That experience, though disappointingly abbreviated, was beneficial for the first-year player, Barron said. "At first, there were some growing pains because he wasn't able to communicate as efficiently. But as he grew up throughout the games, he was able to talk more. He was able to see things a little bit differently," Barron said of Hermanns, who actually felt like he was ready to return in the spring but got held back. "The quicker, throughout your career, that the game slows down for you, I think the better off you're going to be. I think it slowed down for him very quickly. "He's physically a freak, when you look at him. He's a 6-7, 315-pound guy who doesn't look like it. And that's huge. He has the size. He has the mentality. He's a very stubborn person. He's hard-headed, and he likes to work out, be in the weight room, to do things that are only foot- ball and school. That's big. That's the biggest part about coming to college. I think he's been able to adjust well." Eric Swingler is a valuable backup, able to play nearly every position up front, and he slid in to start the final seven games with Hermanns out. Bearooz Yacoobi got game snaps last season, too, and could be a guard fill-in. j

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