Key Departures: Rob Henry (Graduating)
Additions: David Blough, Carrolton (TX) High School
Summary: After the first few games—two of the first four being blowout losses—it was evident Purdue needed to make the change at quarterback. In comes touted freshman Danny Etling and out goes fifth-year senior Rob Henry. Through a struggle of a season, Etling gradually took strides forward, capping off a season of 10 touchdowns and nearly 1,700 yards with a 485-yard, four-touchdown performance against Indiana. There weren't many positives to take from a 1-11 season, but Etling's improvements certainly were noteworthy.
Looking Ahead: All indications point to Etling being the starter for Purdue. He entered with high potential and began working toward that as a true freshman. However, there could be a scenario in camp where sophomore Austin Appleby and incoming freshman David Blough are allowed to compete for the top spot. Appleby has all the talent of an Etling, but just hasn't ever gotten the chance. Meanwhile, Blough enters as a John Shoop-picked recruit and will certainly get his crack to beat Etling as the starter. It's likely that Etling will be a four-year starter with the Boilermakers, but this isn't a done deal.
When quarterbacks guru John Shoop first arrived in West Lafayette, he walked into a gold mine.
Shoop had two talented arms to work with, Austin Appleby and Danny Etling (who enrolled early). The future of his offense appeared to be bright.
There were plenty of growing pains along the way. The Boilermakers offense struggled as a whole, stunting the development of Etling, who was named the starter in October. But Etling continued to work for improvements while Appleby admirably accepted a reserve role, vowing to earn the starting spot. In time, both quarterbacks became better in practice, showing signs of reaching their high potential.
Before this all, David Blough happened. Shoop, the longtime NFL assistant, found a diamond in the rough early into his second college job. The Carrolton (TX) High School quarterback who had zero offers before Shoop showed up would become a prized prospect at the Elite 11 camp. Purdue landed a prize for its 2014 recruiting class.
There's a question out there that few are asking: What is Purdue's future at quarterback?
With three promising young arms in place, it would be a disservice not to conduct a detailed quarterback competition. Both Appleby and Blough deserve the chance to compete with Etling, the incumbent.
Etling showed great progress in his first season. His first starts saw great struggles against the dominating defenses of Nebraska, Michigan State and Ohio State. But in the final four games, with the competition proving to be not nearly as strong, Etling excelled.
It started with a quick dump to fullback Kurt Freytag, ending the Boilermakers' shutout streak on offense after a long, frustrating month of waiting. That started a streak of success to end the season.
Coming into the Purdue program, Etling had all kinds of hype. He was highly recruited, shined at the Elite 11 camp, and broke all kinds of records as a high school senior. Purdue fans already had Etling etched into the ‘Cradle of Quarterbacks' before he even took a snap.
The learning curve for Etling was steep, but he concluded the season at a level desired for a freshman. The stellar performance in Bloomington was the perfect way to cap off an otherwise bumpy first ride behind the wheel. The starting job would otherwise be declared his moving forward. But let's not forget the other options.
Throughout each week of practice, there was Appleby, working and learning alongside Etling. Coach Shoop became the perfect mentor for the young quarterback who's still waiting for a chance. Appleby lost the position battle once, but that doesn't mean he'll lose a rematch.
Blough will bring tough competition, too. Once flying under the radar, the Lone Star State standout took the Elite 11 camp by storm. He ranked as one of the top arms in the camp, catching scouts by surprise. He followed it up with an impressive senior year. Other colleges became suitors, but they were too late; Blough was a Boilermaker. In January, he'll be on campus in West Lafayette and ready to battle for the starting job.
Why not Austin Appleby? Why not David Blough? Each should get a fair shot to be the Boilermakers' starting quarterback.
Coaches Darrell Hazell and John Shoop have a good problem on their hands with three talented quarterbacks to choose from. The hard part will be picking the winner of a position battle. It's well worth their time to make this happen.