CHICAGO – The worst kept secret across the Big Ten might be that Darrell Hazell is under some pressure in his fourth season at Purdue. After a 6-30 start to his tenure, Hazell needs to get the Boilermakers above at least the four-win plateau in 2016.
That could explain why Hazell is taking his time when deciding who will lead his offense for his most pivotal season in West Lafayette.
Perhaps that’s the prudent approach, too. Hazell needs to do better in 2016 and the process of improvement could start and end with who he tabs as his starting quarterback. Whether he picks former Elite 11 recruit David Blough or talented redshirt freshman Elijah Sindelar, Hazell’s decision might define the future of his Purdue tenure.
The good news is, the incredibly optimistic Hazell seems to like both quarterbacks. But he emphasized at Big Ten Media Days on Monday that a decision won’t come until well into fall practice.
“What I like about those guys is that they’ve slowed the game down, they’ve showed tremendous leadership, they’re throwing it with some accuracy and they’re playing with some confidence,” Hazell said during his opening Q&A session. “It’ll be a few weeks before we make that decision.”
Blough took the reins in the middle of the 2015 season against Bowling Green and threw for 1,574 yards, 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions in eight starts. His accuracy is one of his greatest traits, according to his coach.
“David Blough is a guy that makes really good decisions, and the ball comes out of his hands fast,” Hazell said. “I think his accuracy is probably an ‘A-minus.’
Sindelar lacks playing experience– in fact, he doesn’t have any – but he makes up for that with raw talent. Hazell, a former Ohio State assistant, even compared him to a legendary Buckeyes quarterback.
“Elijah has a cannon,” Hazell said. “His arm is as big an arm as I’ve ever been around, maybe other than Troy Smith’s. He’s still learning the game, but his upside is through the roof.”
That Troy Smith is the 2006 Heisman Trophy winner, by the way. Hazell sure knows how to sell.
But the problem is it’s uncertain whether he will get the most out of whoever he chooses. The talent might be there because Purdue returns 10 offensive starters – including running back Markell Jones and three of the team’s four leading receivers – from last season.
In Hazell’s mind, a less sophisticated offense could mean more production from whoever lines up under center.
“What I think will help these guys is the simplification of what we’re doing,” Hazell said.
For Purdue, simple might be the most important step toward success, which has been a rare feeling for the Boilermakers over the past three seasons.
Hazell used the metaphor of a train arriving to explain where his program was at during his opening Q&A.
“I used to drive up I-65, and on the northbound side there used to be a billboard on the side of the road. … And the sign said ‘The train is coming.’ In the back of my mind I said, ‘At some point in time the train has to get here. It has to arrive.’ ”
If Hazell makes the wrong choice at quarterback, the train won’t arrive. It will derail.