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Position preview: Hoosiers return intriguing group of cornerbacks

Tiawan Mullen is A Dude and he’s got some talent opposite him

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 02 Northwestern at Indiana
Indiana Hoosiers defensive back Tiawan Mullen (3) celebrates his fumble recovery during the game between the Northwestern Wildcats and the Indiana Hoosiers on November 02, 2019 at Memorial Stadium, Bloomington, IN.
Photo by Jeffrey Brown/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Depending on the numbers you look at, Indiana’s pass defense was pretty decent last season. For example, the Hoosiers allowed their opponents to complete just 55.6 percent of their passes, the third-best mark in the Big Ten. There are also some less flattering volume stats. For example, the Hoosiers allowed 2,778 yards through the air, the fourth-most in the conference, and 7.1 yards per attempt, the fifth-highest average in the conference.

That production, though, came from a group with some relatively young contributors. The team’s best corner last season was true freshman Tiawan Mullen. The lone senior at corner was Andre Brown IV and the only other upperclassman in the corner rotation was Raheem Layne, who has since moved to safety.

That leaves a pretty intriguing group of corners for IU to work with this season. It’s a group spearheaded by Mullen that also contains some players who gained plenty of valuable experience in 2019, as well as a couple of heralded recruits who could find themselves on the field this fall as well.

Tiawan Mullen, So.

It’s difficult to have a better freshman season than Mullen did in 2019. The Florida native worked his way into the starting lineup and quickly became a crucial player for the Hoosiers in what was one of the program’s best seasons over the past few decades.

He led the Big Ten in pass breakups with 13, a total that was tied for 11th in the nation and second amongst freshmen across the country. He also forced and recovered two fumbles and put up 29 tackles, 3.5 for a loss.

He’s expected to once again be a linchpin of the Hoosier defense. Coming off of multiple Freshman All-American honors, an offseason of being a Pro Football Focus darling and, most recently, the honor of being named to the 2020 Chuck Bednarik Award Watch List, how could he not be?

Mullen will be IU’s ace in pass coverage, he’ll help out in defending the run when need be, and if he can take a step up from his strong performance as a freshman, maybe with a few interceptions, he could potentially be on his way to life as a professional football player, which is in his blood. His brother Trayvon starred at Clemson and is currently playing for the Las Vegas Raiders and his cousin is Lamar Jackson. Yeah that one, not the other one. The reigning NFL MVP.

Reese Taylor, Jr.

Taylor’s first season in Bloomington was a weird one. He moved from quarterback, the position he played at Ben Davis while winning Indiana Mr. Football back in 2017, to cornerback in the preseason. Then he switched to running back and wide receiver early in the season before ultimately being the team’s backup quarterback over the last few weeks of the season due to some injuries.

I, for one, was convinced that he should continue to be used as an offensive weapon. Why? Basically one big play against FIU and a play-by-play soundbite that stuck in my head for much, much longer than it should’ve. Was it great logic? No. The play was cool, though:

As a sophomore, Taylor finally fleshed out a role on the team as something more than a cork for whichever part of the boat had sprung a leak. He transitioned to cornerback full-time, playing in 11 games and making his first career start in the Old Oaken Bucket game. He didn’t put up crazy numbers or anything — he had just 13 tackles, one for a loss, with an interception and two pass breakups — but he still managed to have a big impact.

In the game against Maryland, he was the one who sealed the win by picking off an overthrown pass.

Coming into this year, Taylor’s role figures to expand a bit. He’s been listed as the potential starter at the second cornerback spot, opposite Mullen, as he’s been given an “OR” designation alongside Jaylin Williams on the depth chart.

Jaylin Williams, Jr.

The other potential starter on the outside for the Hoosiers, Williams already has plenty of experience under his belt. He started in seven of the final eight games last season and played in all 13 at corner, making 19 tackles with an interception and three pass breakups. The pick came in the first week of the season against Ball State. He also played in all 12 games of the 2018 season, as well, with similar numbers, making him a reliable option for the Hoosiers.

Larry Tracy III, R-Fr.

Tracy comes into the season as Mullen’s backup on the depth chart. He made his collegiate debut last season while redshirting thanks to the new eligibility rules, taking the field against Eastern Illinois.

Coming out of high school, Tracy was a pretty exciting prospect (and still is, for the record). The Decatur Central alumnus was ranked as the No. 6 recruit in the state of Indiana and the No. 62 cornerback nationally by Rivals. He also comes from an athletic family as one of his cousins, Tyrone Tracy Jr., plays receiver for Iowa and his other cousin, Kenny Tracy, is a running back for Miami (OH). His uncle, Tyrone Sr., is a Fort Hays State Hall of Famer after playing football there back in the eighties. Another cousin, Miles Tracy, plays basketball at IU-South Bend. You get the picture.

If IU’s Tracy can live up to his full potential, he should be a significant piece of the IU secondary in the years to come. He’ll seemingly get a chance to take his first steps toward that this Fall.

Josh Sanguinetti, R-Fr.

Until this Spring, Sanguinetti was a safety. He made his collegiate debut at the position last season, playing in the Eastern Illinois and UCONN games while retaining his redshirt. Coming out of high school, the Florida native was rated as a four-star prospect and the 25th-best safety in the country by ESPN, making him what the recruiting experts call a “good get” for the Hoosiers. Though he didn’t make the two-deep released earlier this week, he should certainly be in the rotation as needed, and will possibly push Tracy for the CB4 spot behind the more established trio ahead of them.