Hazell after practice

Purdue coach Darrell Hazell talks to the media after the Boilermakers' practice on Wednesday.

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Purdue football fans, media get up-close look

Hazell

– Fans who walked in stood on the sidelines for nearly two hours inside the Mollenkopf Athletic Facility for the first day of spring football practice Tuesday. Two young boys played a controlled, 10-foot game of catch with a black, rubber football that had the familiar Purdue “P” on the side. Media, in abundance, took notes and – gasp! – video and photos.

Thanks to the open-door policy of first-year coach Darrell Hazell, the shroud of secrecy has been lifted from Purdue football practices for the first time since the affable Joe Tiller, in his straw, Panama hat, welcomed visitors to the Boilermakers’ workouts.

Hazell did Tiller one better; he even invited students.

“Bring your fraternity over for 45 minutes and watch practice,” the coach told the local Journal & Courier newspaper. “Hopefully they’ll do that.”

Thus begins a new era of hope to replace Danny Hope, who was let go after four years and a combined 22-28 record.

“Like I’ve said, it’s going to take all of us, and that means the whole Purdue community to get this thing rolling the way we want it to roll,” Hazell said when the day was done. “That’s going to be critical.”

The practice was divided into several five-minute segments, each ending with a blast of an air horn from a student manager who hustled onto the field, hoisted the canister into the air and pushed the button. Dutifully, positions groups – quarterbacks, running backs, offensive linemen, etc. – jogged to another portion of the indoor field to begin the next segment.

For most of the afternoon, Hazell, in a long-sleeved white knit shirt, black sweat pants and black hat, surveyed his team by patrolling the field between the hash marks. He spoke, but not loudly. He moved, but with a purpose. He instructed, but left much of the teaching to his energetic assistants.

With 13 starters returning from last year’s 6-7 team plus a glaring uncertainty at quarterback, Hazell has his early work cut out for him before the Boilermakers open their season Aug. 31 at Cincinnati.

Already he has a pretty good idea who he’s dealing with. Rob Henry, one of six quarterbacks wearing yellow jerseys, has the most experience. Landon Feichter, the former Bishop Dwenger standout, is back at safety – a place where he led the team in tackles. Ricardo Allen will be at cornerback again. He even took a fumble return to the end zone Wednesday.

“Did he take one back?” Hazell said. “Did he? I missed that one.”

He said he couldn’t see everything from down low, amid the bodies, but there was the camera in the sky high above the Mollenkopf end zone that was recording everything.

“I think the guys came out, worked hard,” Hazell summed up practice No. 1. “Obviously a lot of things we have to do fundamentally a little bit better, and scheme-wise a little bit better. But I think they’re trying extremely hard, so that’s a good step.

“I’ll go up and watch the film after we get finished here and I’ll see who needs a lot of help and who did a good job today.”

So the practice ended with what Allen called “coach Hazell drills.” Wednesday’s had players carrying a comparative-sized teammate piggy-back down to the end zone, switching positions, then back.

It’s a new drill every time.

“Nobody knows what it is,” Allen said. “It’s called ‘Big Ten championship’ and ‘Rose Bowl championship.’ One day we’ll get out here and kick a field goal, the next day, we backpedal every five yards all the way down. We’ll backpedal side-to-sideline. Most people don’t make it. That scares me.

“What I like about him is he keeps his composure. He’s really hard to read, so you never know if he likes you or not. That’s a good thing. It keeps you working.”

stwarden@jg.net

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