Purdue's Rob Henry knows clock is ticking

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Purdue quarterback Rob Henry enjoys the random pop quizzes from offensive coordinator John Shoop, even when he has "no clue" about the answers.

The more Shoop demands of his signal callers, the more Henry enjoys the process. When it comes to learning Purdue's new offense, Henry, a fifth-year senior, is in the same boat as the three freshmen -- redshirt freshmen Austin Appleby and Bilal Marshall, and true freshman Danny Etling -- he's competing with for the starting quarterback spot.

But he's paddling a little faster.

"When I came in, I was able to sit behind Joey [Elliott] and learn the system that was in place at that time," Henry told ESPN.com. "But now I have one season left. So I don't have any time to learn. I have to learn everything as fast as possible.

"This is it, this is it. I have a few more months left here at Purdue."

Henry's Purdue career has come full circle two springs after it appeared ready to take off. In the spring of 2011, he had established himself as Purdue's top quarterback, a soon-to-be-elected co-captain and, in the words of then-coach Danny Hope, the team's most improved player of the offseason.

After starting seven games as a redshirt freshman in 2010 because of necessity, he was poised to lead the offense in 2011 purely because of performance. Then, days before the season opener, Henry tore the ACL in his right knee. Season over, career altered.

Henry returned last season but slipped down the depth chart. He attempted just 38 passes as Robert Marve and Caleb TerBush rotated at the quarterback spot.

The 6-2, 200-pound Henry is, in a way, back to square one, competing for a starting spot in a new offense with several others.

"It's gone from thinking I would start for a few years to having one year of playing under my belt and one year left," Henry said. "So it's a very urgent time."

Henry's coaches sense his urgency this spring. As the only candidate with collegiate game experience, he opened spring ball taking snaps with the first-team offense.

Although the coaches have been fairly egalitarian with the reps, Henry remains the first quarterback to call signals during practices. Henry and Etling worked mostly with the first-team offense in Saturday's scrimmage, although head coach Darrell Hazell told ESPN.com on Monday that it remains a three-man race with Appleby also in the mix.

"It's extremely important to him," Hazell said of Henry, "and that's where it starts. You see it in his preparation. He's been a very good leader for us, and he brings that maturity to the huddle."

Henry's athleticism never has been questioned. He led Purdue in rushing in 2010 with 547 yards. He lined up at quarterback, running back and receiver in last year's loss to Minnesota.

But there always have been questions about Henry's skills as a pure quarterback. Dual-threat quarterbacks thrive in the spread offense, but can Henry fit into a true pro-style system like the one Shoop and Hazell intend to run?

"I'm confident in my ability, whether it's running the ball or throwing the ball," Henry said. "The thing that really makes a difference is Coach Shoop, how he teaches us and how he pushes us. You really don't have a choice but to do it right."

Winning the starting job won't be easy for Henry. Winning the Boilers' locker room is much easier.

Whether or not Henry emerges as the starter, he'll be a leader for Purdue in 2013.

"He took me on my official visit when I got here," Appleby said. "He was my first friend here. He's been nothing but a senior leader to me. He's such a tremendous person in all aspects. He's somebody who I definitely look up to, and the rest of the quarterbacks look up to.

"He's been through a heck of a lot. Because of that, he has the respect of the rest of our team."