After sustaining a major knee injury a little less than one year ago, Jaycen Taylor is rounding back into form and looking to re-establish himself in Purdue's offense.
The fifth-year senior running back tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee in training camp last season, ending his season then and there and forcing him to redshirt. It was the second of two surgeries, the latter performed in the spring, that did the trick after a slow recovery from the first procedure.
Now, Taylor says he simply must work his way back into game shape after being idled for the better part of year.
But with injuries like Taylor's, the psychological effect of returning to the field on a mended knee can be just as difficult as the actual physical recovery.
"My conditioning's not too bad," Taylor said Monday, after Purdue's third training camp practice, "but as far as believing in my knee and not going out there and being hesitant in my cuts, thinking of what I was doing when I got hurt, it is a mental thing."
That mental barrier is often lifted after a player starts getting hit.
Monday, Purdue practiced for the first time in shells - one step below full gear, which comes out Wednesday - but hitting below the waist was prohibited, so Taylor will have to wait for that first lick to come.
"I'm not looking forward to it, but I want it to come, if that makes sense," Taylor joked. "They say if I take the hit and I'm OK, then I'll know in my mind I'm fine. But I don't want to go through it to see if it's actually true.
"I'm not saying I'm going to be timid, but I'm just not looking forward to it."
It's been only three practices with limited contact, but Coach Danny Hope likes what he's seen from Taylor thus far in camp.
"When we split up in protection (in blocking drills), he had to take on some (defensive) ends," Hope said, "and we all know he's not a real big guy. But if you've seen him play in the past, he's a tough guy who plays with a lot of heart.
"He stepped right up in there and took on the ends and didn't shy away a bit. I don't think there's going to be any problem with the physicality of the game and where his knee is. We still have to knock the rust off him, but I think he'll be able to help us a bunch this year on special teams, in the backfield, as a receiver out of the backfield. He's a good football player, so thank goodness we've got him back and he's going to be ready to go."
"We have great competition," Hope said. "We'll spread it around. Somebody will get to carry it more than the others obviously, and there will be some play-calling pertinent to certain personnel, but all those guys have some redeeming qualities and can help us win, whether it be special teams, short yardage, as a receiver out of the backfield, a ball-carrier. They'll all help us win."
First day in shells
Monday's practice was Purdue's first taste of substantive contact, though there's still only so much that's allowed without the full gear.
But, still, it was a start.
"It's what we've been waiting for, to get some contact," middle linebacker Chris Carlino said. "We were looking forward to it."
Hope said Monday's practice was typical of a first day of physical work, calling his team "unpolished" at this point.
"It went pretty good once we got out there and got going," Hope said. "At the beginning, I think they were a little reserved. It was warm, they had pads on and they were out on the turf (in the heat) and I thought they held back a little early. We'd have liked to have started faster, but we finished strong.
"It was a little sloppy. We had some poor quarterback-center exchanges, some poor hand-offs, some missed alignments and assignments, but that's usually what happens around this time in camp when you have a lot of young people and everybody's trying hard. It's typical in a lot of ways. What's really evident to me is we have a lot of guys who are committed to the same cause.
"Even though we had a few skirmishes out there and some guys were getting after it, there was no negativity. Guys were encouraging each other and I really like the quality of instruction from the coaches and how the kids are focusing on the instruction and are willing to comply. That's a great sign for our football team."
More from Hope
On senior wide receiver Royce Adams, a converted cornerback: "He's really improved. He does everything just about perfectly now. He needs to be a little more consistent catching the football, but he's an outstanding worker and he's 100 miles ahead of where he was in the spring. He's much more polished than I thought he'd be right now."
Hope added that Adams' speed and physical demeanor have stuck out, praising the physicality of the entire receiving corps.
On freshman wide receiver Antavian Edison, who Hope singled out for the third straight day: "He keeps sticking out to me."
GoldandBlack.com will have more to come on Edison Tuesday.
On the freshman linemen, all of whom are on defense right now: "I really like our young line prospects. That's something that really sticks out. They're all on defense right now, the guys that we recruited. You've got a bunch of 6-foot-5 or 6-foot-6 big, good-looking bodies and they can all run and they can all hit. Some of those guys might be able to help this year; some of those guys, when they get moved to offense, can be very special players."
Hope reiterated that no moves are imminent among those seven rookie "line" prospects.
"Somebody's got to move over (to offense)," Hope said. "It's just a matter of time before we do it. The ones who do move, whoever they are, they're all tall, they're all fast and they'll all hit. They're like the Matt Lights and Brandon Gorins."
On linebacker: "We're much further along than we were last fall, with Carlino having some experience in there, having (Jason Werner) back there - he's really a smart football player - and Joe Holland is a lot more polished. Our No. 1 linebacker corps is pretty good right now. They're in the right spots, they run well, in the passing game, they're getting their hands on a lot of (balls). They do a lot of lot of little things that make a difference.
"The guys behind them - young guys like Antwon Higgs, Dwayne Beckford and those guys - have come a long way too. I'm very encouraged by what I've seen from our linebackers right now. It's a good group talent-wise."
On the senior-laden secondary: "Our senior secondary's a lot of fun, very confident and they're doing a great job bringing the young guys around. They're getting those young guys ready. Again, (freshman) Josh Johnson looks good. Josh McKinley didn't play a whole lot last year, but he'll help us a bunch this year."
On the offensive line: "The whole offensive line looks a lot different to me. Last year, it was a disjointed group, a lot of guys who missed a lot of practice and weren't ready because of injuries. Then, they got out there in the spring, had a new line coach and new techniques. But there was a 100-percent transfer of training from the fundamentals and techniques of what I taught and what Shawn Clark teaches. They've really gained some momentum. The whole group does a good job running to the football, as good a job as I've been around in many, many years. That's a great sign for the hustle on our offensive line."
Hope singled out sophomores Ken Plue and Dennis Kelly ("he's going to be a big-time player") for their improvement and said senior Jared Zwilling "looks very comfortable at center."
On punter Chris Summers: "He's getting excellent instruction from Coach (J.B.) Gibboney and he's a more polished punter than he was a year ago. Now, there's not a whole lot of rush coming at him, so all he has to do is take the snap, stay on line and execute all the fundamentals of a good punt, and he's doing that. He's really knocking the ball a long way. He only did that some of the time last year; he's doing it most of the time right now."
On Werner's health: "We pull him out some, but when you're older - not that he's all that old, but he's been around for a while - you don't need quite as many reps as the rest of them to get to the same spot. We give him a bunch, then hold him out some. A lot of it's based on his (feeling). If he feels something tightening up a bit and needs to go stretch it some ... he's a guy who really wants to be out there, so if he wants to pull himself out some, we don't have a problem with that whatsoever.
"He's a very good player with great instincts. He's smart. He's everything you want in a linebacker. If he's healthy, he'll have a heck of a year and impact our program."
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