By CLIFF BRUNT
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Don’t write off Ralph Bolden just yet.
The explosive Purdue running back tore the ACL in his right knee last season against Indiana and is still recovering. This week, coach Danny Hope gave the best indication yet that Bolden could be a factor this season.
It’s going to be up to Ralph, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him playing at some point throughout the course of the season and maybe soon, he said. But it’s really up to Ralph.
Hope said Bolden lacked confidence a month ago, but that is starting to change. Hope likes what he has seen lately.
We have a green jersey on him, which indicates that he is injured and no one is to lay a hand on him, Hope said. But the last couple of practices, he got more reps in shorts with no contact. He looked very fast and very sudden.
It’s easy to forget how thrilling his 2009 season was, but here are some reminders. He was named second-team All-Big Ten by both the media and coaches after rushing for 935 yards and catching 20 passes for 261 yards. He ran for 234 yards in the season opener against Toledo, then had 29 carries for 123 yards and three receptions for 52 yards with three touchdowns the next week at Oregon. He had 98 yards rushing on 16 carries with two touchdowns and two receptions for 38 yards and a touchdown at Michigan on Nov. 7. He might have broken 1,000 yards rushing that season had he not been sidelined with hamstring injury early in the season finale against Indiana. He did all that in a pass-first offense while sharing some of the load with Jaycen Taylor.
He hasn’t fully recaptured that form, and might never get back to that level. He missed 2010 with a torn ACL, then came back last season and rushed for 674 yards rushing and six touchdowns and caught 13 passes for 129 yards while splitting time with Akeem Shavers.
Even if Bolden returns, Shavers has a firm grasp on the No. 1 job right now. Akeem Hunt, the current No. 2 running back, ran just 33 times for 287 yards last season, so a comeback for Bolden would offer needed experience and help a team that lacks depth at his position. And if he’s close to his 2009 self at any point, he would be a key component on an already solid team.