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Early Wisconsin football 2017 preview: Week 7 vs. Purdue

Hammer and Rails looks at the beginning of the Jeff Brohm era in West Lafeyette.

NCAA Football: C-USA Championship-Louisiana Tech at Western Kentucky Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

As with a few teams in the Big Ten Conference, a new head coach will lead the Purdue Boilermakers in 2017.

Former Western Kentucky head coach Jeff Brohm takes over in West Lafayette after Darrell Hazell was fired during the season last year. There may be quite the clean-up effort needed, but the new regime does retain quarterback David Blough, quite possibly one of the lone bright spots for the Boilermakers in 2016.

Hammer and Rails’ Travis Miller joined B5Q for a quick look at Purdue’s spring and what lies ahead for the program.

Out goes Darrell Hazell in October, in comes Jeff Brohm. Whats the general feeling around Purdue football about the former Western Kentucky head coach (and, yes, former first-team All-XFL quarterback), along with his hires for his coaching staff? What will he bring to the program?

Hopefully competent recruiting and football coaching. The Hazell hire was a complete and abject disaster from day one. At first, we talked off that first 1-11 year as, “Well, it was a complete rebuild, what are you gonna do?” but Hazell never developed talent and was an absolutely horrid recruiter. Allow me to give you an example: Before last season, we desperately needed an offensive tackle that could come in and play immediately. We went after JuCo prospects and after a few didn’t work out, ended up signing a guy (Jalen Neal) while barely getting any footage on him. He signed at the last minute and in very limited playing time he was awful. Meanwhile, at Lafayette Central Catholic High across town, there was a four-star offensive tackle that ended up being poached by Indiana. Coy Cronk started and played well for the Hoosiers as a true freshman. I have heard through rumors that Cronk was interested in Purdue, but Hazell never even bothered to offer. LCC is a powerhouse, small-school program in the state less than 5 miles from Purdue’s campus. We even offered and got their leading offensive player in Jackson Anthrop (though it helped that his older brothers Dru and Danny played basketball and football at Purdue, respectively), but Hazell never even bothered to offer Cronk.

We know we have to be patient with Brohm. If anything, the mess he has to fix is bigger than the one Hazell was supposed to fix from Hope. The lines are dangerously thin and the talent has to get better. Still, Brohm should bring a much improved offense after years of watching John Shoop three-and-outs.

Who are the key contributors coming back for the Boilermakers?

There are some good pieces. David Blough was the Big Ten’s leading passer last season and he has a stable of decent running backs. On defense, Markus Bailey really came on late last season as a freshman linebacker and Ja’Whuan Bentley is hopefully 100 percent healthy. Both tight ends should be really good in Cole Herdman and Brycen Hopkins. Markell Jones had a down year, but he was playing with a bum shoulder most of the season.

Wisconsin v Purdue Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Who will they have to replace from last year’s team?

Really, as bad as Purdue has been the last four years, every spot is likely up for grabs except for Blough at quarterback. Where I am most worried is the offensive line. Kirk Barron has the starting center spot locked down, but graduation, injuries, and suspensions have us hilariously thin up front in the spring. Eric Swingler, a walk-on that tore his ACL last year, would be a starting tackle if we had to play a game right now. We have to hope some freshmen coming out of redshirt develop because we don’t have a choice.

Which players could be breakout candidates?

I am told that JuCo safety T.J. Jallow should be an immediate and significant upgrade in the secondary. Also, we lost virtually every top receiver to graduation, so any number of freshmen and JuCo transfers could break out. Brohm is an offense-first coach that loves to throw the ball. Someone you have never heard of will have a great season catching the ball simply because we will throw it a lot.

Which position battles are worth watching this spring?

Offensive and defensive line. As mentioned, Purdue is dangerously thin in both areas. Purdue simply needs guys on both sides that are capable of playing Big Ten football. It doesn’t matter if they are players that have been in the program a while but haven’t played or if they are freshmen. At this point, we just need bodies up front.