Kirk Barron, Shane Evans, Wes Cook

Purdue players including Kirk Barron (53), Shane Evans (75) and Wes Cook (35) celebrate last November with the cannon trophy that goes to the winner of the rivalry game against Illinois.

EDITOR'S NOTE: In Jeff Brohm's first season at Purdue, he took what was supposed to be a rebuilding year and turned it into a winning one. The Boilermakers posted their best season since 2011 with a bowl victory and a 7-6 record. As we count down to fall camp and Season 2, we’ll be previewing the Boilermakers position-by-position. This is the third installment in a multi-part series.

Offensive line

The offensive line was one of the biggest unknowns when Jeff Brohm arrived at Purdue in 2017. The Boilers had to replace two NFL-caliber guards. A starting tackle left school after numerous legal issues. And just one starter (Kirk Barron) returned.

This year, the line will take on a different vibe. Four of the top five linemen from last season return. Plus, Brohm again dipped into the transfer market by adding Western Kentucky guard/center Dennis Edwards.

The returning starters and the new addition make for one of the most experienced position groups on the team. This question is, will that experience translate to success?

Key returners: Kirk Barron (senior, center), Grant Hermanns (sophomore, tackle), Shane Evans (senior, guard), Matt McCann (junior, tackle/guard), Michael Mendez (junior, guard), Bearooz Yacoobi (senior, guard)

Notable newcomers: Dennis Edwards (senior, grad transfer from Western Kentucky), Mark Stickford (RS freshman, tackle), Viktor Beach (RS freshman, interior OL)

Losses: David Steinmetz

Biggest question: How do the Boilers replace David Steinmetz?

Purdue has just one hole to fill on its offensive line. But it’s a big, 6-foot-7, 305-pound hole.

Massive tackle Steinmetz joined Purdue as a grad transfer in 2017 and proceeded to start every game. While he fights for a roster spot with the Miami Dolphins, Purdue will look for his replacement.

Hermanns started the first six games of the 2017 season before suffering a season-ending knee injury. Healthy again, the sophomore should step right into a starting role, likely at left tackle.

Junior Matt McCann and redshirt freshman Mark Stickford are the two most likely candidates to fill the other tackle spot. McCann played guard last season, but considering the addition at guard and McCann’s experience at tackle in 2016, he seems like a logical choice to move outside.

Stickford, meanwhile, was a state champion at Carmel and a first-team all-state selection. After bulking up during a redshirt season, the 6-5 lineman will fight to earn his spot on the field this year.

Greatest strength? Barron’s strength.

Barron is the anchor of the offensive line. From a physical standpoint, he’s among the strongest players on the entire team, with a 750-plus pound front squat. He’s earned national recognition on the Remington Trophy watch list, presented annually to the most outstanding center. Pro Football Focus considers Barron one of the top 10 returning centers in college football.

From a leadership standpoint, Barron has grown into a vocal leader. He was elected a team captain last season. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him hold that title for a second straight year.

Position battles: Changing of the guard.

Brohm added depth, competition and experience to the offensive line when he signed Edwards. The 6-1, 305-pound lineman started 39 of 41 games over the last three years at Western Kentucky. He should have an opportunity to step into one of the starting offensive guard spots and provide a reliable backup at center behind Barron.

On the other side, Evans, who transferred from Northern Illinois before the 2017 season, started all 13 games last season at left guard. But that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll do it again. Mendez and Yacoobi will be challenging the two guards for playing time.

Worth considering: How running the ball influences Purdue’s victories.

Brohm is known as an aggressive, quarterback-friendly play caller. But if last year was any indication, the Boilers were best when balanced.

In their seven wins last season, the Boilers averaged 186 yards on the ground. They went over 100 rushing yards in six of those seven wins and posted four games with 200-plus yards.

Conversely, Purdue averaged just 111 yards on the ground in six losses. But even those numbers are artificially inflated by a 279-yard rushing performance at Rutgers, a game Purdue essentially gave away.

If you take out that outlier, Purdue averaged just 77 yards on the ground in the losses. They were held under 70 yards rushing in four of the six losses, including a season-low 30-yard rushing game against Michigan.

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