Senior analyst Neil Callaway adds punch to developing o-line

You probably don’t know who Neil Callaway is. That’s OK.

What’s important to know is he was hired as a senior analyst this offseason to help Purdue offensive line coach Dale Williams augment the rushing attack. And the move appears to be paying off.

“Oh man, he’s a heck of a guy, man,” said fifth-year senior left tackle Grant Hermanns. “He keeps us locked in, for sure. He’s an attention-to-detail-kind-of-a-guy. He really gets us all focused and on point and makes sure that we’re really locking in and that everyone’s learning the plays …”

The 65-year old brought a long resume to West Lafayette. He is the former head coach at UAB (2007-11) and has worked as a line coach at places like Georgia, Auburn, USC and Alabama, where he played for Bear Bryant from 1974-77.

And Callaway knows Jeff Brohm well, having coached his offensive line at Western Kentucky in 2014 ad 2015 when Brohm was the head coach of the Hilltoppers.

“Well, Neil is a coach who brings a lot of experience at a lot of big-time programs and he’s worked with me before, “ said Brohm, who notes G.A. Max Halprin and quality control coach Justin Sinz help with the line, too. “So, I’m very familiar with him. He loves football. He just wants to do his part.”

Callaway already is paying dividends in helping improve a rushing attack that ranked last in the Big Ten in 2019 (83.3 ypg). How anemic was the run game last season? Purdue averaged a meager 2.9 yards per tote and managed nine rushing TDs. Both totals ranked last in the Big Ten. And then there is this: Purdue rushed for only 999 yards in 2019, failing to reach the 1,000-yard plateau for the first time since 2013 (805) and just the second time since 1990 (612).

Purdue’s offense never is going to be about lining up and knocking down defenders with a power run game. But Brohm’s attack needs to run enough to make defenses respect it. And—for the most part–that’s happening slowly but surely in 2020.

The Boilermakers rank 13th in the Big Ten in rushing, averting 98.2 yards. That’s 15 yards more than last year’s final average. And the average per carry is up to 3.7. With a few players out with injury–Kyle Jornigan, Will Bramel, Cam Craig–the line has taken shape the last two games, with the same five linemen playing every snap: LT Grant Hermanns; LG Spencer Holstege; C Sam Garvin; RG Gus Hartwig; RT Greg Long.

“Well, those guys are out and that’s made it a little bit easier, so the substitution pattern, there’s not as much options right now,” said Brohm. “But, we have a few there are ready to go in. We feel good that Grant Hermanns and Greg Long have done a pretty good job for us to tackle. They have got to continue to get better, but they have been pretty steady. Sam Garvin is a steady player that can snap the ball, and he knows our calls and gives us great effort, and our young guards are playing hard, Spencer and Gus.”

Against Rutgers last Saturday, the line got another good push, as the Boilermakers ran a season-high 33 times for a season-high 175 yards to go with two TDs. Junior Zander Horvath has been the workhorse running back. He leads the team with 421 yards rushing with two TDs, averaging 84.2 yards per game to rank No. 4 in the Big Ten. Horvath also has 26 catches for 266 yards. And sophomore King Doerue has slowly worked his way back from a hamstring injury that cost him the first two games, giving the offense a nice 1-2 punch.

“Yeah, Coach Callaway has done on a lot of great things with us so far,” said junior center Sam Garvin. “Biggest thing I think he does is when we’re taking reps during practice, we have the five that are in the game, or in practice, and then the rest 15 of us or so are back here with him. and he’s really harping on paying attention, making sure you’re taking the mental reps and, he’s not afraid to call you out if you’re done. So, I think he’s done great things so far.”

This is shaping up to be the best line of Brohm’s four-year tenure. The unit already has flashed great depth, as 10 linemen already have been used. Hermanns is the lynchpin as a fifth-year senior at left tackle, and Long is a grad transfer from UTEP who has filled a key hole at right tackle. And then there is Hartwig, the rare true freshman to start along the o-line. Hartwig and redshirt freshmen Holstege and Craig look like the future anchors of the front along the interior.

“I think we’ve really tried to spend a lot of resources in making sure that we’re coaching that position as hard as we can and we’ve got to continue to do that,” said Brohm. “We’ve got some youth there, mixed in a with a few others with experience, but there’s still a ways to go. And while we always would want to be dominant, we still have to work at it, and it’s going to be a weekly battle where we can try to progress and get some positive yards out in the running game and be more physical and find ways to protect when we have to and find ways to play more guys to provide competition.”

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