Few teams in college football experienced the breathtaking epidemic of injuries quite like Purdue.
The Boilermakers lost their top quarterback, running back and wide receiver to knee injuries in 2010. Running back Ralph Bolden was out for the season before fall camp with a torn ACL. Wide receiver Keith Smith, a potential all-Big Ten player, caught 18 passes in his first two games before missing the rest of the season. Miami transfer Robert Marve played in four games before going down to a knee.
"We had a lot of new faces on the team last year," Purdue Coach Danny Hope said. "We had a lot of injuries, a lot of young, talented players. When the season was all said and done, we had 17 freshmen that played. Those guys coming back, a lot of them started, played very well last year. But just from where we're at as a football team, we started off further ahead because we have some guys back on the team that played last year."
The Boilermakers return three quarterbacks with experience, including Marve. But sophomore Rob Henry, who played in 11 games last fall, is listed as the starter. Henry completed just 53.1 percent of his passes for 996 yards and eight touchdowns. But he also was the team's leading rusher (547 yards) and Hope has played all of his, well, hope in Henry.
"Obviously there's some talent at the quarterback position at Purdue right now," Hope said. "Robert Marve is a special talent that can really throw the football. He wasn't able to compete as much in the spring as we'd have liked him do. He'll be ready when the fall gets here. There's some talent at that position. There will be some competition. But we went into the spring with Rob Henry at No. 1 and came out with him as No. 1."
Sean Robinson, who played five games last year, was injured early in spring practice and didn't compete during the spring.
Henry has spent much of the spring refining his game both as a passer and a runner.
"Just to improve as a quarterback and being able to sit back and throw, then escaping and making plays with my legs when I have to," Henry said.
Purdue does return nine starters from defense, but will play without perhaps the best defender in Boilermaker history. Defensive end Ryan Kerrigan, the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, had 26 tackles for loss last year and 12.5 sacks.
Henry said it was an all-out battle between the offense and defense in camp.
"They're definitely very talented and very experienced," Henry said. "They won some, we won some, as you would expect. Yeah, I'm excited about watching our defense. They're going to be really good this year."
Bolden, who rushed for 935 yards in 2009, practiced this spring, but Hope kept him out of tackling drills. Bolden has had two knee surgeries in his football career.
"If you were to go out there and reinjure that knee, you'd say, 'Shoot, now we don't have him for the fall. What does it matter that he was really out there,'" Hope said. "He went out there and did individual work.
"Towards the end of spring looked very fast, catching some passes, taking the handoffs, running behind the line some, running the plays against air. Never put him in there where a body could go into his knee or tackled him any. I don't have any problem with that."