Friday, August 09, 2002

Two-year Purdue starting RB has no lock on spot

Associated Press Writer

        WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Purdue's Montrell Lowe talked during last year's preseason about rushing for 1,000 yards — a goal he missed by two yards in 2000.

        Lowe's expectations have been dramatically adjusted this year. Now he's hoping he'll keep his job as the Boilermakers starting running back.

        Lowe's rushing yards plunged from 998 to 640 last season and his yards-per-carry average dipped by nearly a yard. Three times he had fewer than 10 carries a game and he topped 100 yards in a game only twice.

        An inexperienced offensive line and ineffective quarterbacks were part of the problem. Once quarterback Kyle Orton was inserted the final three games of the year, Purdue attempted 113 more passes than rushes.

        “There were a lot of factors for last season,” said Lowe, a senior. “I'm not going to point any fingers because we all could have done better, myself included. I think it was just a transition year for the offense.”

        The transition could spill over to running back. Lowe is being pushed by sophomore Joey Harris, who also doubles as Purdue's kick returner.

        Purdue coach Joe Tiller compared the competition to the end of a close horse race. Lowe may have the lead, but Harris is quickly gaining on him.

        “I think it's an intriguing position during training camp to see exactly, No. 1, who our starter is going to be and No. 2, what our rotation is going to be,” Tiller said Thursday.

        Both players split carries equally with the first-team offense during Thursday morning's practice.

        Harris, who rushed for 255 yards in 2001, worked on his conditioning and weight training in the offseason. He was named Purdue's most improved offensive player for the spring season.

        “During the spring, I developed into the running back the coaches were looking for,” Harris said. “I ran more physically which is something I needed to do. Everyone likes running backs that can break tackles.”

        Tiller's spread offense, run with four or five receivers, needs only one running back. The Boilermakers experimented with a two-back set a year ago, but Tiller doubts he'd use it again.

        “On our roster I'm not sure we have a two-back kind of guy,” he said.

        Lowe said he was sensitive to the criticism of the running game. His first two seasons were spent in near anonymity as the focus was on quarterback Drew Brees and his record setting numbers. But when the offense struggled, his production was questioned.

        “When I started we had a running game and a passing game,” he said. “Last year we didn't have it and people wanted to know what happened to it. It was hard to really say why, but I think it will be back this year.”

        If there isn't a clear favorite, Tiller said both players would receive plenty of carries.

        “I look for and hope Montrell will have his best year as a Boilermaker,” Tiller said. “I don't think his performance level has fallen off. We've just gone from not having much competition to having a few more talented players there.”

        Notes: Purdue had 99 players participate in its first full-squad practice Thursday morning. Junior walk-on Charles Edwards quit. He did not play the past two seasons. ... The Boilermakers will practice two more days in shorts and have their first full-contact drills Sunday. ... The weather's been too cool for Tiller, who would prefer his team get accustomed to the heat. “I like it a little hotter. I hope we get some heat before we get out of camp.”


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