Competition carrying Purdue's quarterbacks

Danny Etling is the incumbent, but he'll have competition to become the Boilermakers' starting quarterback.

WEST LAFAYETTE -- Ready to make an impression with his first play of the spring, freshman David Blough stood confidently under center.

When the snap came in, the quarterback took his dropback step a bit too far. He went down like a timber. Immediately, teammates Danny Etling, Austin Appleby, and coach John Shoop were all laughing. The harassment won't stop anytime soon.

"I'm sure we'll replay that on the film a lot, and probably put that up on social media," joked Etling. "We'll be getting on him for that."

Added Blough: "I think it's going to be a great story for years to come."

This is the nature of Purdue's quarterback room, where three highly-touted, widely-regarded players will take their shot for the starting job. It's a loose, jovial group of guys, led by offensive coordinator John Shoop. They enjoy film study and joking around.

"The quarterback room has to be very, very close," Appleby said. "We have to support each other and have to help each other."

All three quarterbacks—Etling, Appleby and Blough—were Elite 11 quarterbacks coming out of high school. At Purdue, only one can play.

Spring drills bring open competition at quarterback, where the sophomore Appleby and would-be high-school senior Blough will challenge the incumbent. Etling took great strides during the end of his freshman season, but a position battle will help reaffirm which talented arm will lead the Boilermakers.

"We're going to give everyone an opportunity," head coach Darrell Hazell said. "Danny [Etling] obviously came off last season as the frontrunner, but we're giving Austin [Appleby] a chance to compete for the job, as well as David [Blough]."

One year ago, it was Etling skipping the end of his senior season at high school to join the Boilermakers for spring drills. Perhaps the early reps paid dividends, as he stepped onto the field as Purdue's starting quarterback and continued to progress.

Etling struggled last spring, facing a steep learning curve with John Shoop's complex playbook. Now, he's far beyond those struggles and showing command in the huddle.

"He had ants in his pants most of the season last year," Shoop said of Etling. "He looked really poised, really confident."

As a freshman, Etling threw for 1,690 yards and 10 touchdowns, getting by early struggles in Big Ten play. Even in an offense which struggled as a unit, he improved in the month of November.

Even as the incumbent, Etling's starting job isn't a sure thing. There's plenty of talent behind the sophomore, and the coaches want him to feel the pressure.

"That's a great competition," Etling said. "[Shoop] is always pushing me, and now Austin and David are pushing me. Nobody wants to be on the sidelines signaling. We're going to continue to work. The more and more they can push me, the better and better we can get together. I think we're going to see a lot of growth this year."

Competition is nothing new for Etling. After he took the top spot from fifth-year senior Rob Henry, he had Appleby challenging for the job. Appleby understands the competition he'll face for the quarterback job—now only increased with the arrival of Blough and future of 2015 recruit Elijah Sindelar.

Still, Appleby never considered leaving West Lafayette.

"This is where I want to be," Appleby quickly responded, asked of a potential transfer. "This is the school that I chose. This is the school that I fell in love with. I want to help this team win a championship."

Appleby feels like his game is improved, and said his play will "speak for itself." It won't be easy to beat out both Etling and Blough, but he's eager to give it a shot.

"It is a healthy competition," Appleby said. "We work extremely hard. I don't think there's any question that we get after it out here. But we support each other."

If Blough wanted to avoid the competition, he had plenty of chances. After committing to Purdue—then his first scholarship offer—last May, he received several new offers. After shining at the Elite 11 camp, he became one of the hottest quarterback commodities in the country.

Blough stood by the Boilermakers and a team that first offered an opportunity. Even as Etling took stronger grasp of the starting job, the Dallas-area native never shied away. Now, he's entering the thick of the competition.

"That's what I'm here to do—I'm going to make the team better, and really looking forward to pushing these guys and working with them," Blough said.

The stumble wasn't Blough's only problem from his first day of Purdue practice. He admitted to struggling with the playbook, a common issue for any freshman. But if Etling's confidence is any indicator, Blough will have the same success with just a little more time in the film room.

"That room, it's one where they're really pushing one another," Shoop said. "It's a really confident group of guys. We've just got to keep growing that confidence. They believe they'll compete with every play we call."

Competition will carry Purdue all through the spring, with two promising young quarterbacks challenging the incumbent. No answers are expected until the fall, so the battle will wage on.

"I really think it's going to make the team better," Blough said. "When there's competition at the quarterback position and competition at every position, it's going to make the team play harder."

Chris Emma has covered recruiting, college athletics and professional baseball for FOX Sports Next since 2009. Emma covered the Nebraska Cornhuskers and Northwestern Wildcats, and currently covers the Purdue Boilermakers. A Chicago native, he resides in West Lafayette.
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