April 20, 2010

Veterans must lead on offensive line

Two springs ago, Ken Plue was just first setting foot on a practice field at Purdue. At that time, Dennis Kelly was still in high school.

Since that time, the two offensive linemen have been surrounded by strong upperclassmen to help them along as both reached the field well ahead of a traditional schedule for their positions. Both played as true freshmen.

Now, though, they're the upperclassmen, and so their roles change some.

"Any time you have experience," Coach Danny Hope said, "you're expected to be a leader and we're going to need Dennis and Kenny to be leaders on the offensive line."

Kelly, Purdue's starting left tackle, said such a role is an "honor."

When he was a freshman, he credited then-seniors Cory Benton and Garret Miller for helping make a difficult adjustment - Kelly was pulled out of redshirt mid-year and put on the field - a little easier. Last season, Kelly said, he could rely on Zach Jones and the line's other seniors for guidance.

Now the roles are reversed as it's Kelly and Plue who must set the example for a group of fellow linemen with very little aggregate experience.

"They did it by example, and that's what we're trying to do," Plue said of last season's seniors, namely Jared Zwilling, Zach Reckman and Jones. "We're trying to play hard and practice hard and hopefully everyone else follows suit."

There's plenty of leading to be done.

Only the secondary trumps Purdue's offensive line this spring in terms of the sheer magnitude of the rebuilding project at hand.

Not only is there a dearth of playing experience surrounding the two juniors, but there's not a whole lot of offensive line experience.

Redshirt freshman Trevor Foy moved from the defensive line in training camp last year - so did the injured Monroe Brooks - making him the most experienced of those imported to the O-line from other positions.

Juniors Nick Mondek and Colton McKey (tackles) and redshirt freshmen Cody Davis (center) and Xavier Melton (guard) are seeing their first offensive line action this spring.

Likewise, Purdue may rely heavily on a trio of sophomores - Rick Schmeig, Peters Drey and Andrew Brewer - in 2010. Of them, only Schmeig saw playing time on offense last season, though Drey played on special teams.

Schmeig seems like the frontrunner to succeed Zwilling at center, but will spend his summer trying to perfect his ability to carry out one of the position's most important tasks: snapping.

"That was honestly the biggest (adjustment)," said Schmeig, who played mostly guard in 2009, "... and it's still the biggest. Some days I feel like I'm snapping it perfectly; other days, it's high. Once I get that down, I don't think there will be too much else."

While the sophomore seems focused on center, spending virtually the entire spring there, Purdue's simply sought this spring, per Hope, to identify its eight best linemen, content to worry about positions later.

Drey, listed as a tackle, started the spring game Saturday at guard; Brewer is a center by listing, but could probably play guard. Schmeig's played both.

As Purdue will probably continue to experiment with what sounds like everyone everywhere, the two constants should be Kelly and Plue, the latter of whom was sidelined much of spring with a tight back, adding all the more uncertainty to the offensive line.

"It is pretty hard," Plue said of the changes around him on the field. "You get out there and you play with somebody you're not used to playing next to, it can take some time. But we're all a family and we get through it. It'll all work out.

"It's really important for us to go out and lead our team. Being out early in the spring, it was hard for me to just watch my guys and not be out there with them. It's just important for us to be leaders and make sure everyone's going in the right direction."


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