History with Iowa transfer Charlie Jones gives Purdue's Aidan O'Connell another playmaker
“I really believe right now we have an NFL quarterback leading our offense and not many teams in the country can say that"
WEST LAFAYETTE – Spring practice gave Aidan O’Connell and Iowa transfer Tyrone Tracy an opportunity to develop the important quarterback-receiver chemistry that should help Purdue’s offense maintain a high level.
However, Purdue coach Jeff Brohm has added another Hawkeye receiver transfer to the roster and O’Connell has a built-in history with Charlie Jones, who arrived on campus earlier this month and adds more depth to the position.
O’Connell and Jones lived about 10 miles from each other in Illinois and played youth football and baseball together for six years starting in the third grade. O'Connell is from Long Grove, Ill., and Jones grew up in Deerfield.
“In football, I basically threw it to him every play," said O'Connell, who attended Stevenson High School. "I know him well. He’s a great friend and has already had a lot of success and hopefully, he brings that over here.”
O’Connell also likes Jones’ versatility to be used at different positions. He’ll play a key role in Purdue’s special teams since Jones was named Big Ten Returner of the Year last season, but O’Connell said don’t be fooled by his statistics as a receiver.
“I don’t think he’s gotten to show as much but he’s a skilled receiver with a lot of speed, a lot of quickness and lateral quickness too. He’s got great hands,” said O’Connell, who will attend the Manning Passing Academy later this month.
“Since he’s been here, I’ve gotten to see how he handles himself, how much he watches film, studies the playbook, how he eats and all those things. He handles himself like a professional.”
Jones joins a receiving room that lacks NFL-proven talent, a luxury the Boilermakers have enjoyed with the combination of David Bell and Rondale Moore during a four-year stretch. Purdue has solid receivers and Broc Thompson proved his value in last year’s Music City Bowl victory over Tennessee by earning MVP honors.
But Brohm has demonstrated during his tenure with the Boilermakers that developing receivers is a strength. Keeping this group healthy is likely the No. 1 key.
“We’re going to miss David like crazy. A dynamic player who did so much for us and Rondale before him,” O’Connell said. “A new guy will emerge, and probably multiple guys will emerge that we’re going to need to play.
“It will be a little different not having that straight-up No. 1 guy but hopefully that will help us be able to distribute it more and have more of our playmakers make plays.”
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If O’Connell needs to find playmakers, he can always look for his talented tight ends – Payne Durham and Garrett Miller.
“My grandpa actually tells me that every couple of weeks,” O’Connell said, laughing. “He loves the tight ends. He knows the tight ends are a quarterback’s best friend. I’m getting plenty of reminders about that.”
O’Connell was honored Sunday at the National Football Foundation Awards banquet with the Drew Brees Mental Toughness Award. O’Connell’s story is well-known, rising from a walk-on to a second-team All-Big Ten selection last season and after moving up the depth chart.
Brees taped a video message that was played during the banquet.
“It’s hard to believe,” Brees said. “Everything you’ve overcome from coming in as a walk-on quarterback to putting your head down every day and overcoming plenty of hardship, injuries and adversity to put yourself in position to be the starter and the leader.”
O’Connell, who returned for his sixth season and has already earned his Master’s Degree, completed at least 74.1% of his passes during a seven-game stretch before battling through the bowl game with three interceptions.
He threw five touchdowns against the Volunteers to finish the year with 28 – the most by a Purdue quarterback since Curtis Painter had 29 in 2007 - bringing plenty of momentum into the 2022 season.
“I really believe right now we have an NFL quarterback leading our offense and not many teams in the country can say that,” offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Brian Brohm told the audience. “Great leader, guys follow him and listen to him. He does it the right way.”
And that’s taking place right now.
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Several players returned to campus earlier for summer school classes than in previous years and O’Connell and his teammates are taking advantage. He said the team has “already ramped it up” not waiting for the official start of summer school classes, which was Monday.
There’s no need to sit idle when nearly everyone is ready to go.
“We’ll continue to progress throughout the summer,” O’Connell said. “As school starts, this will be a checkpoint you could say but in terms of intensity, it’s been there already.
“We’re basically full steam ahead already. I’m feeling great. I’m ready to go. I’m ready for August, ready for September.”
Mike Carmin covers Purdue sports for the Journal & Courier. Email email@example.com and follow on Twitter and Instagram @carmin_jc