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Boilers players understand their doubters

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- The students are back on campus here at Purdue, and they have questions for Boilermakers junior wide receiver Keith Smith.

"Everyone's coming up, saying, 'How's [quarterback] Joey [Elliott] looking? How's the defense looking? How's the offense?" Smith said. "Everyone's always asking because they don't know anyone right now. They've gotten so used to seeing Curtis Painter and Greg Orton and those guys.

"Just for it to be a change-up, people are going to doubt it and they're not going to know what's going on."

No team in the Big Ten seems harder to decipher than Purdue, which went through a wave of changes in personnel and on the coaching staff during the offseason. Longtime head coach Joe Tiller departed along with both coordinators, and new coach Danny Hope hired three new assistants for running backs, the offensive line and special teams.

The Boilers lose Painter, their record-setting quarterback, along with their top two receivers (Orton and Desmond Tardy), their starting running back (Kory Sheets) and several veteran defenders, including linebacker Anthony Heygood.

Hope's first recruiting class also had a mysterious quality about it, with 14 mostly unheralded players from the state of Florida.

"On paper, it's easy for people to make their assessments, when you look at people coming back, who's left," linebacker Jason Werner said. "But you can't judge talent if you haven't seen it yet."

And Werner is convinced Purdue boasts enough talent to compete in the Big Ten.

The freshmen are expected to contribute immediately and several have stood out in camp, including wide receivers Antavian Edison and Gary Bush and linebackers Dwayne Beckford and Antwon Higgs. Purdue gets Werner and running back Jaycen Taylor back from injuries that kept them out all of last season, and junior college players like wideouts Keith Carlos join the mix.

"We know what we're capable of and what we can do," Smith said. "There's a lot of unanswered questions that will be answered real soon."