Bolden looks for 16 inches of daylight

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Purdue running back Ralph Bolden knows exactly how much room he needs to break away.

"All I need is 16 inches of daylight," Bolden told me Wednesday. "That's it. I'm gone."

Bolden proved it early last season, zooming to the top of the national rushing charts with 357 yards and four touchdowns in his first two games. On his very first carry in the opener against Toledo, his first touch as the Boilermakers' starter, Bolden raced 78 yards to the end zone.

He showed flashes of his breakaway ability throughout the fall, finishing third in the Big Ten in rushing (77.9 ypg) with an impressive 4.7 yards-per-carry average. Bolden also was a factor in the passing game -- a must for a Purdue back -- with 20 receptions, 261 yards and two touchdowns.

Not bad for a freshman.

OK, Bolden technically was a sophomore in 2009, but the 5-foot-9, 194-pound Georgian wasn't much of a factor in 2008 as he recovered from a serious knee injury he suffered late in his high school career.

"He didn't play much his freshman year, but he didn't get redshirted, so they kind of wasted him," Boilers offensive coordinator Gary Nord said. "He didn't get to spend any extra time in the weight room, and then he didn't get to play and get the experience, either. He was like a freshman last year and will be like a sophomore this year."

After another full offseason under his belt, Bolden will hit the practice field March 24 with higher hopes.

"I wasn't able to do what I want [in 2009]," he said. "This year, I expect a lot more. I know how people are going to move, what to expect, so it's like, 'You know what to expect, you've got to do something.' A lot of times people just do stunts and slants and stuff. It caught me off [guard] last year, I looked for the cutback a lot. But I'm going to stick with my blocks and be more disciplined."

Bolden has been trying, mostly unsuccessfully, to bulk up a bit this offseason, but his breakaway speed isn't going anywhere.

Boilers running backs coach Cornell Jackson often tells his players that they only need 16 inches of room to burst through. Bolden proved the theory last fall, and Nord has bigger plans for the back in 2010.

"He's got a great first step, he can really take off fast," Nord said. "He's got very good vision, he got a lot better in the blocking part of it, in the protection schemes, and he's got extremely good hands. We move him out and play him at wideout, we put him at the top of the I, and we'll keep him as the 1-back.

"He's very valuable to us, and another year under his belt with maturity is going to be amazing for him."