By CLIFF BRUNT
AP Sports Writer
WEST LAFAYETTE -- If Curtis Painter is to have the record-breaking passing year Purdue hopes for, he'll do it with just one experienced receiver.
Big-play threats Dorien Bryant and Dustin Keller are gone, leaving Greg Orton the only receiver left who caught more than 10 passes last season. Painter will play without Bryant and Keller for the first time in his career Saturday against Northern Colorado.
Even coach Joe Tiller isn't sure what to expect from the new group this season. He does know two things -- he'll play as many as eight receivers, and Purdue will continue to pass, regardless of who is on the field.
"The guys haven't played much with the exception of Orton," he said. "I think that an outsider would look at us and say we've lost a lot of firepower. We're going to look a little bit different as a team this year. I certainly hope we'll be able to score some points once again."
Painter isn't a question mark. Purdue is touting him as a Heisman Trophy candidate after he passed for 3,846 yards and 29 touchdowns last season. He ranks in the top 10 in conference history in passing yards, attempts, completions and total offense.
Painter's top target will be Orton, a senior who caught 67 passes for 752 yards and three touchdowns last season. Tiller said Orton should be receiving attention.
"Certainly when he steps out behind the shadows of Bryant and Keller, he has the capabilities of putting up even bigger numbers. I think that will prove to be fruitful and productive for us."
Keith Smith will step into the slot role that Dorien Bryant had a stranglehold on for three years. Bryant, at 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds, was an elusive finesse player with the speed to score from long distances. Smith, at 6-2 and 226 pounds, and will be more of a possession-type pass catcher who uses his strength and blocks well.
Smith started his Purdue career as a quarterback, then quickly moved to safety and started one game. He didn't play last season, but entered the offseason as a receiver. Tiller has spoken highly of Smith throughout the preseason.
"Sometimes, you get a gut feeling about a guy," Tiller said. "He's a physical player, he likes the physical part of the game. He's a 180-degree turnaround from what we've had playing at the slot position. He can break tackles against anybody. It's such different style of play at that position than we've had in quite some time."
Brandon Whittington is listed as the other starting wide receiver. The 6-2, 213-pound senior caught just one pass last season, but has an advantage on his competition -- he's been Painter's roommate for three years.
"He's a guy that's been around the block, paid his dues, waited his turn," Tiller said. "He's had a good training camp."
Whittington was injured late in the spring, but already had made an impression.
"I think he had a great spring until he broke his foot, one of the best of all the receivers," Painter said. "He's making plays, he has good hands."
Aaron Valentin and Joe Whitest are listed as second-string wide receivers.
Valentin caught 37 passes for 612 yards and 10 touchdowns last season at Erie Community College in Freeport, N.Y. Tiller said he can only remember Valentin dropping one pass during fall practice.
"He's made a big move in my opinion," Tiller said.
Whitest did not catch a pass last season, despite playing in 11 games as a reserve.
Tight end Kyle Adams has the unenviable task of replacing Keller, who will be catching passes from Brett Favre with the New York Jets this season. Adams made the most of his time last season, catching eight passes for 109 yards and two touchdowns.
After Orton, the top returning pass catcher is running back Kory Sheets. He had 30 catches for 216 yards last season, numbers that should increase now that co-starter Jaycen Taylor is out for the season with a knee injury.
Whittington not only believes the passing game will be effective, he believes the long gains didn't leave with Keller and Bryant.
"We still have guys who can make big plays," he said. "When we really need it. If people don't think we have them, we do."