Notes: Cool runnings

Purdue's running backs were the focus of Tuesday's workout in Mollenkopf. Boiler Sports Report offers full detailed from West Lafayette.

WEST LAFAYETTE - Collectively, there's only one way for the Purdue running game to go in 2014, and that's up. Actually, that direction should be forward.

In 2013, the Boilermakers were dead last in Big Ten Conference rushing, carrying the ball 319 times for 805 yards (2.5 yards per rush) and only six touchdowns. In finishing 1-11, Purdue averaged only 67.1 rushing yards a game.

To place that in perspective, Michigan ranked 11th in Big Ten rushing with 1,634 yards, more than twice as many as the Boilermakers.

Needless to say, improving that facet has been a priority during spring practices, which continued Tuesday afternoon in the Mollenkopf Cenyer.

Senior Akeem Hunt is Purdue's most experienced back and is the team's leading returning rusher with 123 carries for 464 yards (3.8 per carry) and one touchdown. He also is the No. 2 returning receiver with 38 catches for 340 yards and two TDs.

"There's more competition," Hunt said of Purdue's running back situation. "Everybody is going fast. We're not stopping on routes, and we are getting lower with our pads and actually finishing through. When we are running the ball, we're saying, 'Let's not let them hit us. Everybody is showing great improvement."

Senior Raheem Mostert, senior Brandon Cottom, redshirt freshman David Yancey and sophomore Dalyn Dawkins will join Hunt as Purdue's primary stable of running back. Hunt said everyone still is learning his role.

"It takes time," Hunt said. "The coaches are stressing mental focus and repetition. We all are getting into the play book at home. We don't take off days. And we get in the room and study film. If you are versatile, you will get on the field. You have to know what you have to know and don't make excuses."

Hunt thrives on a role that will include rushing and receiving.

"I love receiving," Hunt said. "I love being out on the perimeter. That is more opportunities for me. Going against linebackers, I feel like I can win. A fast guy against a linebacker should be no competition. Versatile people are going to get the ball more."

Running backs coach Jafar Williams sees the picture starting to take shape.

"I don't know that anyone has separated himself, but I will say that we all know what Akeem can do," Williams said. "The thing we have to do as a staff is really game plan for him. We are going to play him a little bit more in the slot and some of those things.

"Right now, you look at Akeem, Raheem and David Yancey has really come on. Those three guys are probably the three we are focusing a lot on in the Red Zone."

- Williams said he will ask even more of Hunt and Mostert.

"I told Akeem and Raheem that they have to be leaders for us," Williams said. "I want those guys to be leaders."

- Yancey said one noticeable difference has occurred this spring.

"We're very versatile," Yancey said. "We have big backs, and we have fast backs. We're competing every day. It's a good challenge every day. We joke all the time in that I think I can catch the ball, too. I can run, block and play fullback, too."

- After battling a nagging injury all spring, Cottom, Purdue's No. 2 rusher last season with 154 yards, is smiling again.

"My quad is feeling a lot better now," Cottom said. "I definitely am coming into being closer to 100 percent now. I am just trying to get back to 100 percent now.

"We have a lot of special backs this year. Collectively, we all have been performing."

- Sophomore safety Austin Logan, who injured his right ankle in Saturday's kicking scrimmage, was wearing a boot on Tuesday and did not participate in the two-hour session.

- Sophomore quarterback Danny Etling was running with the No. 1 offense on Tuesday.

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