Top newcomer: Purdue Boilermakers

The newest crop of college football players are starting to arrive on campuses all over the country. Freshmen and transfers will make their first impressions at summer classes and workouts with their new, veteran teammates in the next couple weeks. Most will be hoping to lay the groundwork for an immediate impact this season. This week on the Big Ten blog, we’ll be identifying the player from each of the league’s teams that has the best chance to become a well-known name by the end of the fall.

Next up is Purdue.

Purdue top newcomer: OT Jalen Neal

On the list of issues for Purdue’s coaching staff to sort through this summer, offensive line might be at the very top. After an uninspiring spring performance from some of the younger tackles on the roster, new offensive line coach Darrell Funk will need to rely on their junior college transfers to pick up the slack.

Neal played for three seasons at Scottsdale Community College in Arizona before signing with the Boilermakers this winter. He was scheduled to arrive for the spring semester, but an academic issue kept him in the Southwest until June and built the anticipation for his arrival slightly higher.

Neal is listed between 6-foot-6 and 6-foot-8 depending on which recruiting service is holding the measuring tape, and just north of 300 pounds. So, if nothing else, he gives the Boilermakers a big, healthy body to plug into one of the spots on the line.

Neal converted from defense to offense in Scottsdale when a coach told him he had a better shot at a Div. I scholarship on offense with his size. He said he’s picked up most of the nuances of the position while playing both right and left tackle during the past two seasons, but admits there is still room to improve.

Neal and fellow newcomer Tanner Hawthorne are the two best bets to add a bit more depth at the tackle position. Senior Cameron Cermin returns as a two-year starter who settled in at right tackle in 2015. He missed spring ball because of offseason shoulder surgery, but is expected to claim one of the two starting spots this August.

If Neal adjusts quickly to a new playbook, Cermin might be able to stay put on the right side and bring some stability to a line that lost several key starters after making some strides in the past couple years. If Neal isn’t ready for the jump to a Power 5 conference, Funk and the rest of Purdue coaching staff might not have the ingredients they need to build a fully functional offense in West Lafayette this season.