Ryan Walters takes first step as head coach in new era of Purdue football

On3 imageby:Tom Dienhart03/22/23

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Every journey begins with a first step. And Ryan Walters took his as a head coach on Tuesday, when he led Purdue through its first spring practice.

“I was happy we made it through a practice,” he said. “This is (my) first practice as a head coach for me, personally, and to be able to see it sort of play out and be clean, I thought it was good.”

Walters continues to put his stamp on a Boilermaker team he took over in December. It’s a program coming off a six-year run under Jeff Brohm that culminated in a Big Ten West title in 2022. Now, it’s the 37-year-old Walters’ turn to make his mark. And his goals this spring are many.

“Just keep improving,” he said. “Just kind of finding an identity of who we are offensively, defensively, what we’re good at, try to find out exactly who we got on the roster and what they’re capable of doing so that we have a good idea of how to attack the recruiting aspects heading into the fall to make sure we got the right guys in the locker room to go compete and win a championship.”

Walters already has started to re-imagine the roster, bring in four players from the portal who are going through spring drills. QB Hudson Card, G Jalen Grant, DL Isaiah Nichols and S Anthony Brown. Fellow transfers CB Salim Turner-Muhammad and OL Ben Farrell will arrive in the summer. But, more help surely will be imported via the portal after spring practices conclude on April 22.

“That’s the goal of the spring, to find out what we’ll need,” said Walters. “And, obviously, Day One coming off the grass, I don’t know what those answers are yet. I probably won’t know that answer till after spring is done. It will be important for us to do so. We’re gonna do everything we can as a staff to give our guys in the locker room the best chance to have success in the fall.”

Walters seems pleased with Card, a Texas transfer who is the presumptive No. 1 signal-caller.

“I thought he had a good command of the offense,” said Walters. “I think he’s a sharp, sharp young man and knows where to go with the football. Obviously, he’s uber talented. There’s a couple throws I’m sure he’d like to have back. It’s Day One of spring.”

Walters will have a keen interest in the totality of the team. But he no doubt will have his eye on the defense, which is where he forged his reputation as a coordinator most recently at Illinois. Walters will install a unique scheme that features five players across the front.

“It’s not the old Purdue scheme anymore, right?” said Walters. “It’s our scheme, the new Purdue scheme. So, everything’s changed defensively. And as a defensive-minded guy and a former coordinator, you want to see communication, you want to see guys aligned correctly and having our eyes in the right spot and being detailed with those type of fundamentals.”

Added senior safety Cam Allen about the defense: “I think it’s all gonna look the same. It’s going to confuse other teams. We’re gonna line up, and it’s gonna look the same, and then drop out into different stuff.”

Purdue has 14 more practice this spring to hone its fundamentals and learn the new schemes, including an offense based on Air Raid principles. That offense added a new coach on Monday, with Purdue announcing former Missouri assistant Marcus Johnson as offensive line coach after Matt Mattox left last week for personal reasons.

“Obviously, there was a sense of urgency just with the timing of everything,” said Walters. “I had a previous relationship with Marcus and got to see him work firsthand. He’s been on my shortlist from the start. And I’m just happy that we were able to attract him here and I’m happy that the administration gave us the resources to go do it.”

The Boilermakers will scrimmage April 1 and April 15 before having a final open practice on April 22 at Folk Field, home of the women’s soccer team.

“We got a lot of things that we’re hanging our hat on,” said Walters. “Our three sort of foundational pillars, if you will, are just being competitive, being tough and being disciplined. I think in every phase of the game, if that is our identity, then we’ll have a chance to be successful in the fall.”

MORE: Deep Dive spring practice No. 1 | Purdue OL coach Matt Mattox leaving for personal reasons | Purdue hires OL coach Marcus Johnson | The 3-2-1: Spring football preview edition | Projected pre-spring offensive depth chart | Projected pre-spring defensive/special teams depth charts | Spring football schedule | Scholarship distribution | Spring practice No. 1 photo gallery

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