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Gold and Black Illustrated, Vol 26, Digital 6

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Page 26 of 110

GOLD AND BLACK ILLUSTRATED VOLUME 26, ISSUE 6 25 WR RB That matters because waiting in the wings now is redshirt freshman Elijah Sindelar, a prototype 6-foot-4, 230-pounder. Sindelar surged late in the spring, thriving under Lester's tutelage and seeming to better pick up Pur- due's more simplistic playbook. A next step would be get- ting the ball out of his hand quicker, but his arm strength can make up for some of those slow responses. "Elijah has terrific poise for a young guy," Malone said. "It doesn't take you long to appreciate his arm strength. He's got a big-time arm. I think, in most cases, he's accu- rate. It's a good combination to have. He's a big kid who's got great talent, and he's very smart. Again, the poise is what really stands out to me. He steps out there and he performs and it's not a huge task for him. That's somebody I think has an extremely bright future and is going to win a lot of games here." Few question Markell Jones' ability: He rushed for near- ly 900 yards and 10 touchdowns as a true freshman last season. But he'll have new challenges in 2016, adjusting to car- rying an even greater load as only a second-year player without much proven help behind him. Purdue lost what it figured would be a formidable 1-2 punch when D.J. Knox tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during the spring game. He's out for the season. That means Jones, who surpassed Knox in the starting lineup in the middle of last season, will get the bulk of the game snaps. He certainly was productive in the ones he got, averag- ing 5.2 yards per carry and also catching 34 passes (third on the team) for 239 yards. "After really watching Markell for a full year now, I real- ly think he can be on the field every single snap," Malone said. "We don't want him to be out there if he's not at 100 percent and totally refreshed and ready to play fast, but he certainly can do everything we ask of our running backs. He can catch. He can protect, and he can certainly run the ball." Jones' physical style could be cause for concern — his highlight reel includes a string of plays in which he ran over defensive backs — as could a mystery knee injury that knocked him out of two games last season. Being healthy and fresh will be critical — the offense needs Jones to at least repeat, if not improve, that phenom- enal freshman season. Many believe he will. "From a maturity standpoint and (with his) playmaking ability, he's about as good as I've ever seen, to be so young," said first-year running backs coach DeAndre Smith, who's coached former 1,000-yard rushers Michael Turner, Garrett Wolfe and Mikel Leshoure, among others. But Purdue will need to spend training camp figuring out who will fill Knox's spot. Junior David Yancey, redshirt freshmen Tario Fuller and Richie Worship and freshman Brian Lankford-Johnson are the top options. Smith got long looks at the entire stable of returning players in the spring, rotating them with the first- and second-team units, and he's convinced Purdue will have a player — or players, if it turns out to be situational — who can fill the role. Yancey is a heady player coaches trust not to make mistakes but has played limited snaps on offense despite being a fourth-year junior. Worship is a big-bodied back who still has some agility but will have to adjust to more of a tailback role. Fuller likely is the most athletic of the bunch but needs to better grasp the system — and learn to pass protect — before he gets any significant game snaps. Lankford-Johnson, who missed the first month of summer conditioning by not enrolling until July, could be the fastest of the group, but he'll have a ways to go in terms of learn- ing the system. "I have confidence in everybody in my room, so I don't really worry about who is going to be the second option. And even saying 'second option,' I don't like that, because they could be the first option somewhere else," Jones said. "It just depends on how dedicated these guys are, as far as wanting to play and learning the playbook. Physically, they can play, but mentally is where you've got to be really in it." There's experience in terms of years and game snaps. There's production in terms of yards and touchdowns. There's depth in terms of talent and experience. There's fierce competitiveness in terms of a willing- ness to push each other. And there's still potential in terms of an even higher level to be reached by each one. Purdue's receiving corps should be the strength of the

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