Potential there for Purdue's season

The Boilermakers are right in feeling optimism for the upcoming season.

WEST LAFAYETTE - Live it. Learn it. Love it.

When the Purdue football team began its second spring practice season for coach Darrell Hazell, those were then points of emphasis stressed to a group of players coming off a 1-11 season during which it was 0-8 in the Big Ten Conference.

It is much too early to deduce how much better the Boilermakers will be in 2014 - if they will be better - but in Hazell's world, the glass appears to be half full as compared to being half empty, which it certainly was this past fall.

"The biggest thing is that you come out of this thing healthy," Hazell said after Saturday afternoon's spring game in which the defense appears to have made the biggest strides. "I am really pleased with the effort of this football team over this spring. Our guys' concentration and willingness to listen and get better each and every practice could not make me more proud.

"In terms of attitude, the big difference is how well they run to the ball. I also think they are playing a lot more confident right now. Maybe that's because they are one year into the scheme and the system. Maybe it is because they feel better about themselves and about the coaching staff. They are playing a lot more relaxed and are making a lot more plays than they did at this time last year."

If Saturday's 12-7 victory by the Gold team against the Black is any indication, the offensive line remains a major question mark, and frankly, freshman David Blough outplayed sophomores Danny Etling and Austin Appleby in the battle for the starting quarterback job.

Etling, who is the returning starter, painted a predictable picture of optimism, but he has to know Purdue has to get much better in a hurry to be relevant in the Big Ten title chase in the next season or two.

"The offensive line has gotten better and better," Etling said. "Raheem Mostert has been running downhill better and better. The receivers have done better blocking downfield and blocking for each other. The quarterbacks are doing a good job distributing the ball and making defenses try to defend the whole field."

Etling talks like a confident player, which could be a major step in the right direction for an offense that will feature senior backs Mostert and Akeem Hunt in the fall.

"As Coach Hazell has said, it mostly is the confidence." Mostert said. "if we can do the job, and you believe, you are going to do it." Offensive line play has to be much better for that to happen. Or, maybe the Purdue defense is that much better, led by senior defensive end Ryan Russell, who made 11 tackles, including 3.5 for losses in the spring game.

"It was a good spring for me, just putting everything together," Russell said. "Having another year with this coaching staff has been great for everybody. Personally, I am concentrating on the details. I can always improve my game a little bit more."

That can be said for every Boilermaker. The schedule is softer this fall, and the team is more experienced, but that does not guarantee three, four or five more victories in 2014.

This Purdue football team may be learning it, living it and loving it, but this team has to prove it with actions and results, not with well-spoken words. We will see.

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