WEST LAFAYETTE - On the day Jeff Brohm opened his second fall camp at Purdue, the coach announced that eight players will represent the team as captains.
They are quarterback David Blough, quarterback Elijah Sindelar, center Kirk Barron, running back D.J. Knox, safety Jacob Thieneman, defensive tackle Lorenzo Neal and punter Joe Schopper.
“I love that group,” Brohm said. “They do a great job working on and off the field, setting the tone, being a great leader, competing to win and also they’re very good football players. I think they’ll do a great job leading the team."
Here are some more notes and observations from Day 1 of camp.
Two linebackers miss practice
During Big Ten Media Days, Brohm acknowledged that the linebacker room is the thinnest position group on the team. Monday, it was even thinner.
Sophomore linebackers Derrick Barnes missed practice because of a death in the family and Tobias Larry was out with a disciplinary issue. Barnes is expected to be back at practice on Thursday. However, Brohm said that only “time will tell” when – or if – Larry can return.
That could be significant if the issue lingers. Brohm took the redshirts off of three sophomore linebackers last year (Cornell Jones, Barnes and Larry) to get them experience. If Larry cannot contribute this season, that will cause even more depth issues at linebacker.
Young backers get their chance
The two absences created an immediate opening for true freshman linebacker Jaylan Alexander. In his first fall practice, he played strong-side outside linebacker in the first-team unit alongside sophomore Jones (Mike backer) and Bailey (Will backer).
Alexander was Purdue’s first commit in the 2018 class. The Boilermakers offered him after he attended one of their camps in West Lafayette. The player who was quick to join the recruiting class isn't taking long to make a good first impression.
“Really what we saw in camp is what we’ve see out here,” Brohm said. “He’s a very instinctive player. He’s going to be a very good player for us. We’re hoping to get him ready as soon as possible for us.”
The Boilermakers also worked out true freshman Branson Deen at inside linebacker. He’ll eventually be a hybrid defensive end/ outside linebaker to fill the LEO position, but right now the more pressing need is at linebacker.
“He’s a good athlete and a guy I think will be a good player,” Brohm said. “But right now he’s spinning quite a bit because he’s not used to where he’s at.”
Youth over experience at corner
Purdue will need to replace both of its corners from last year. So far, a pair of redshirt freshmen -- Dedrick Mackey and Kenneth Major -- are taking the first-team reps. Fifth-year seniors Tim Cason and Antonio Blackmon were behind them in the second-team unit.
“Before we started, I said I liked our secondary," Brohm said. "I thought they could be very good. I hope they will be better than we had last year. That’s not a knock on our secondary. I thought they did a very good job.
"I do think we have more people at those position, so there is competition. We have some very good young players. How early will they be ready? I don’t know. But they made some very good plays today that we normally don’t make."
Big playmakers still wanted
Big plays were a staple of Jeff Brohm’s offenses at Western Kentucky. In 2016, the Hilltoppers led the nation with 61 plays of 30-plus yards. But at Purdue in 2017, the Boilers produced less than half that number.
On Day 1, the Boilermakers dropped a number of deep passes. Brohm blew up on the team at one point in practice, saying something along the lines of “we’ll just hand the ball off every play.” There might have been a "gosh dang" sprinkled in there, as well.
Purdue did make a few more deep plays after the outburst. Jared Sparks in particular reeled in a couple long receptions.
“While today was a good practice, we did not catch the deep ball very well and it was very noticeable,” Brohm said. “There were numerous plays deep that were not made. For sure it will not be good enough.”
Grad transfer steps right in on O-line
Brohm again fortified the offensive line through the transfer market this offseason, adding Western Kentucky guard Dennis Edwards as a grad transfer. He stepped right in with the first-team offensive line, kicking Matt McCann out to tackle.
That creates more competition for the left guard spot, where Bearooz Yacoobi, Shane Evans and others are fighting for a starting spot.
McCollum joins staff as grad assistant
It's almost like T.J. McCollum has been following Jeff Brohm around. He was a player during Brohm's stink at UAB. Then, he went with Brohm to Western Kentucky. Last year, McCollum followed Brohm to Purdue as a grad transfer, racking up 69 tackles at inside linebacker.
Wednesday, McCollum was out at practice again, but in a different role. After working out in two NFL camps, he decided to jump into coaching as a graduate assistant on Purdue's staff.
"Sometimes people aren’t ready to get right into coaching," Brohm said. "I get it. I want them to play as long as they can. T.J. loves football so much, he’s ready to get right into it.
"We want to make sure we utilize him. He’ll be a value asset to us. He’s seen it from a player’s perspective. He gets it. He gets what works on the chalk board, and the playbook is great, but here’s what it’s really going to take on the field. I think our players respect him."