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Gold and Black Illustrated, Vol 28 Digital 3

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GOLD AND BLACK ILLUSTRATED VOLUME 28, ISSUE 3 42 They'll be in the mix in Year 2 to get playing time, as will a load of other options with Purdue losing only Anthony Mahoungou and Greg Phillips from the group. "It'll be a very competitive group in the spring," She- phard said. "The best part about it is, they know I'm not dead-set on who's going to be the starter and who's go- ing to play. So they saw it by our actions throughout the season. It's an opportunity out there for these young men, plus we're going to add other recruits, too. It's an opportunity to see who wants to take the job. They thought there was some pressure this past spring? Just wait until we get started this spring." Tight End With a pair of emerging tight ends in Cole Herdman and Brycen Hopkins, Purdue entertained the idea of redshirting true freshman Darius Pittman. But when Pittman had an impressive camp, that idea was shelved. Even though he wasn't going to get many snaps on of- fense, coaches wanted to get Pittman on the field, at least, as a special teams player as a rookie. So they did. And that's where Pittman played the bulk of his snaps as a freshman, on Purdue's special teams. That was where his lone statistic came during the regular sea- son, a 16-yard kickoff "return" on a squib. But he also benefitted from offensive snaps in Year 1 with Herdman and Hopkins each missing time because of injuries. His only catch of the year was in the bowl game, after Herdman left with an injury. Unofficially, Pittman played a season-high offensive snaps in the bowl without Herdman (23). "To learn this offense, as complex as it is for the tight end position, in this short a time is tremendous," tight ends coach Tony Levine said in early November. "I give him a lot of credit in that respect. He was really a re- ceiver in high school, so this is the first time he's re- ally been in a three-point stance with his hand in the ground, the first time he's had to block defensive ends, and he's doing really a great job. He's got a tremendous future ahead of him at this position." Offensive Line None of Purdue's first-year linemen, not surprisingly, played as rookies. That's a rare feat — and even was rare for redshirt freshman Grant Hermanns to be the team's starting left tackle when the season started. O-line coach Dale Williams isn't sure any of this year's crop of freshmen could make that kind of jump next season, but he was generally pleased with what he saw from youngsters Viktor Beach (6-4, 310), D.J. Washington (6-4, 285) and Mark Stickford (6-5, 265). "They've developed like players that have been red- shirted, and when I say that, it's because they've been in the weight room. You can see physically there is a major improvement in their bodies," Williams said late in the regular season. "When they come out here to practice, it's the speed of the game that they have to get used to. That's the key for offensive linemen — it's the speed and the strength. So I told them, 'Hey, you have to be in the weight room when the season is over. You're here in Indiana, which is Midwest weather and it's snowing and it's 28 degrees and there's nothing to do outside. You have to live in the weight room.' That's what they have to do, be in the weight room." Purdue also kept junior college transfer Ethan Smart, a tackle, largely on the bench. Unofficially, he played one offensive snap against Wisconsin. Williams said Smart, as similar to freshmen, took a while to get adjusted to the speed of the game at the Big Ten level. When asked if Purdue could have one of those young players rise up and take the field as a redshirt fresh- man — like Hermanns did in 2017 — Williams seemed uncertain. "That's a hard one to project," he said. "You have in- Tom Campbell Darius Pittman was Purdue's third tight end in his first season, but he still logged snaps on offense with injuries to the top two and also played special teams as a true freshman.

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