Indiana finished the 2014 season ranked 94th out of 123 Division I teams in passing yards allowed, giving up 251.1 per contest.
It also finished dead last in the same category in the Big Ten. Needless to say, the secondary has been closely scrutinized by the program’s coaching staff through the team’s seven spring practices.
”We graduated some of those DBs, but at the same time we got better defensively,” IU head coach Kevin Wilson said. “Still, our pass D needs to be cleaned up.”
The progress of the Hoosiers’ pass defense has been slowed due to a lack of experience and healthy players.
Coupled with its most experienced returning starter in redshirt senior-to-be Kenny Mullen still working his way back from a knee injury, Indiana’s defensive backfield looks much younger right now than it did last season. In fact, there are only two upperclassmen defensive backs – Mullen and junior Antonio Allen.
”They started off pretty strong these last couple of weeks,” IU cornerbacks coach Brandon Shelby said. “We kind of had a couple mental errors out there. All of these guys are coming back and they haven’t had a lot of game time or field time so they’ve got to do a better job of learning the playbook and being more competitive, more physical.”
Though Mullen has been limited, it’s given him a leadership opportunity that Shelby said has been good for him.
”He knows the playbook and can coach the guys up when I’m kind of on the field,” Shelby said. “He’s done a good job of slowly but surely getting back on the field. He has that veteran attitude and knows the plays and has been doing a good job.”
Mullen also recognized how much injuries affected not just him, but the entire defense.
”Last year was a rough year for not just me,” he said. “I mean, you look around, everybody in every position was down, so it was kind of bad for our team suffering injuries as a whole. But being involved in the film room, and noticing things somebody else wouldn’t notice, being more vocal and taking on a leadership role, and just staying positive. People see me being positive, then they’re positive. (I was) just trying not to be a cancer on the team and just picking everybody up.”
On another individual basis, coaches have been praising the spring work of redshirt sophomore Rashard Fant.
Fant made 23 tackles (21 solo) with five pass breakups and one fumble recovery while playing in all 12 of IU’s games last season. Though young by virtue of his year in school, he is one of IU’s most experienced cornerbacks because of the amount of playing time he received last year.
”I’ve been really excited about the big-play potential for Rashard Fant,” IU defensive coordinator Brian Knorr said. “Our quarterbacks have always felt like he’s one of the top cover guys we’ve had here, but now he’s showing some physicality… He’s really stepped up against some of our better skill guys offensively.”
The potential is there for Indiana’s young defensive backs, and they’ll have plenty of time to reach it with eight more spring practices and the spring game.
”There’s a lot of things we need to do to have a chance to be a really good team,” Wilson said. “But skill development on the offense and defense needs to step up… we need those corners to come through.”