August 9, 2006

Sheets anxious to answer

When it comes to running back Kory Sheets, no one has ever questioned his athletic ability.

In his first action in a Boilermaker uniform last season, Sheets showed fans why they had anticipated his debut ever since he became a "scout team standout" during his redshirt year. The first of several highlight-worthy runs, his 19-yard touchdown scamper last year at Arizona, when he took an option pitch left, stutter stepped out of the grasp of one Wildcat defender, then beat another to the endzone, induced more than one jaw to hit the floor.

"Kory's got talent out his kazoo," then offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said after the game. "He just needs to learn how to play all the time. … Hopefully we'll keep the development going for the young man and he'll be the player we think he'll be."

Therein lies the continuing question that surrounds Sheets: Does he have the durability to become Purdue's featured back in his sophomore season? As a redshirt freshman last year, while sharing snaps with veterans Jerod Void and Brandon Jones, Sheets finished with 571 yards on 104 carries, with 10 touchdowns. But Sheets never registered 20 or more carries - his 19-carry, 137-yard, three-touchdown performance against Indiana in the season-finale represented career-bests - as coaches repeatedly suggested that he couldn't hold up physically over a 60-minute game.

"It is (a concern)," first-year running backs coach Joel Thomas said. "That's one thing we've talked about with him. With playing 13-straight weeks, he's got to prove that he can be durable and get it done."

A 6-foot, 199-pounder, Sheets looks the part of an every-down back. But an injury during the spring, which sidelined him for the back half of Purdue's 15 practices, did nothing to quell thoughts that he is too easily susceptible to injury.

"He has to stay healthy," Coach Joe Tiller said. "I haven't seen him stay healthy yet. He should be the clear-cut starter, but in our opinion, he's not, and health is a big issue."

Sheets, who is fully recovered from his the ankle sprain, however, says he's ready to carry the bulk of the load.

"I can't wait," said the Manchester, Conn., native. "It's what I've been working (toward) for the past two years. I guess it's my time now, so I'm going to try to shine.
"It's every running back's dream to get all the carries or most of the carries."

Sheets says his internship last season, when he was able to watch and learn from Void and Jones, should help him this. While he has more natural ability than his predecessors, he says he picked up some of the intangibles - i.e. blocking, route running - from them.

"Everybody knows I can run, but the big question is 'can you block, can you catch?' Sheets said. "I've got to answer those questions this season."

Those, and the big one: Can Sheets be the every-down guy?

"We're going to find out," Thomas said. "That's what two-a-days are for, to find out if he's going to be a guy who carries it 25 times or is he a guy who gets 10-15? That's something we need to find out and that's something (the coaches) need to decide as we go through the whole season."

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