PURDUE FOOTBALL: 5 things to watch at Purdue's game

CNHI SPORTS INDIANA | TIM BATHPurdue quarterback David Blough drops back to pass during the Boilermakers' opener last season at Lucas Oil Stadium on Sept. 2.

WEST LAFAYETTE -- Saturday at noon Purdue will hold the second spring football game in the Jeff Brohm era. The coach expects a period of live tackling, followed by a "thud" period where players wrap but don't bring ball carriers to the ground.

Here are five things to watch:

THE BLOUGH FACTOR

Senior quarterback David Blough will be back in Ross-Ade Stadium for the first time since dislocating his ankle Nov. 4. Doctors initially imagined Blough would miss the entirety of spring. However, he surprised Brohm when he was out on the practice field the first day of practice.

Blough has competed in 11-on-11 drills since spring break and played in last week's closed scrimmage. How much he plays in the spring game remains to be seen.

The backup quarterbacks should get plenty of reps and will be interesting to watch in their own ways. Jack Plummer, the first quarterback Brohm recruited to Purdue, will make his debut in front of Purdue fans. He enrolled early and will be playing his spring game while most of his classmates are getting ready for prom. Redshirt freshman Nick Sipe, who teammates applaud for his study habits, will also get plenty of snaps.

JUNIOR COLLEGE SENIORS

It often takes junior college athletes a year to get accustomed to major Division I football. The Boilers are counting on several to contribute after modest production last year. In particular, junior college receivers Isaac Zico and Terry Wright will be important if Purdue is going to solidify a position group that struggled to find reliable targets.

Zico has made a number of big plays early in spring, but will need to perform well in the final exam of spring. Meanwhile, Wright is a slot receiver by trade. He's also been utilized on the outside. While he doesn't have nearly the size of most outside receivers, his speed makes him a big-play threat.

RUNNING BACK-UPS

Purdue's backfield began last season as the deepest, most talented position group. It ended as one of the most injury ridden. Markell Jones (knee), Tario Fuller (ankle surgery) and Richie Worship (ACL surgery) missed a combined 16 games last year. Fuller and Worship are still recovering from offseason surgery, and D.J. Knox has been out lately with an injury.

That leaves just Jones and redshirt freshman Alexander Horvath healthy for the spring game. While Horvath might have a hard time finding reps in a deep backfield once the season starts, he's a darkhorse candidate for MVP of the spring game.

As the scrimmage progresses from the live tackling period into the thud period, expect it to look more like a 7-on-7 passing camp than a smash-mouth Big Ten football game. When defenders can't bring ballcarriers to the ground, it's more beneficial and realistic to work on the passing game.

NEW-LOOK DEFENSE

While Brohm's offenses at Western Kentucky consistently ranked in the top five nationally in a number of offensive categories, it was really the defense that was the strength of the Boilermakers last year. This year, defensive coordinator Nick Holt's challenge will be to replicate some of that success with a number of new faces.

Linebacker Markus Bailey might be the most experienced junior in college football. He started all 25 games over his redshirt sophomore and redshirt freshman seasons. Plus he played in parts of three games during his true freshman season before tearing his ACL and earning a medical redshirt. However, he's a game-time decision and might be held out as a precaution.

Even if Bailey plays, the Boilermakers lost eight defenders who played starter minutes and 12 of the 24 players from their defensive two-deep. The spring has been an important time for the defense to identify playmakers, especially in the front seven, and gain experience.

Redshirt freshman corner Kenneth Major is using his physicality to climb into the starting lineup. Look for him during the live tackling period.

The Boilermakers have also experimented with T.J. Jallow at linebacker. The hard-hitting safety wasn't able to translate his aggressive playing style to games last year. The Boilers have used him at outside linebacker in the spring to get a physical athlete closer to the line of scrimmage.

TRICK PLAYS

Last year, Purdue fans got their first taste of Brohm's aggressive and innovative offense during the spring game. Brohm ran a fake flea flicker, where Fuller feigned like he was going to pitch the ball back to the QB, then turned up field for a big gain.

Don't be surprised to see Brohm dig into his bag of tricks again for the spring game.

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