In part because he oversaw a young unit one year ago, cornerbacks coach Brandon Shelby has the luxury of returning most of his key contributors from a year ago. Redshirt junior Lawrence Barnett will have to serve a one-game suspension, but beyond that, Indiana appears healthy and perhaps a bit deeper at corner.
But Shelby says he still wants more depth at the position, something he’s hoping develops as some new faces come along. InsideIndiana.com spoke with Shelby this week, ahead of Saturday’s season opener, to get an idea for where things stand at cornerback for Indiana at the moment:
Question: Coach — week one, season opener, where does the corner position stand right now?
A: I think as a whole, we’ve gotten better. We’re still quite thin, and really, we’ve got to make sure everybody stays healthy. (Redshirt sophomore) Brian Williams did a good job of coming in here, making plays, getting in position to go out and play and help us a lot. And then (sophomore) Kenny Mullen’s been Kenny Mullen. He’s probably been one of our most consistent guys since he came in as a corner, really excited about what he’s doing.
Overall, at the corner position, we’re going to be out on an island a lot. We’ve got to make plays, and that means we’ve got to go get the ball. We’ve got to have the composure to stay in coverage and do what we’ve been taught to do.
Q: With Lawrence suspended for one game, have some guys maybe stepped up and taken hold of the opportunity to earn playing time early?
A: Without a doubt. And one thing about it is, you never know when opportunity comes. It’s unfortunate for Lawrence, but that opened the door for Brian Williams and other young guys, to give them a chance to take a position and not give it back. That just lets them know that the things that you do can cost you, and it can cost you playing time for the whole season.
Really, really excited about the guys that are playing. They seem to be locked in and loaded. We’ve just got to go out there and make plays at the end of the day.
Q: Where are your JUCO additions, Antonio Marshall and Tim Bennett, in terms of comfort and adaptation at this point?
A: They’re on the depth chart, and they’re right there ready. It’s moreso trust, where they know without a doubt where they’re supposed to be. At times, you kind of see them a little bit, as we were last year, unsure. When you’re unsure, you can’t play fast. Our No. 1 group is pretty sure of their checks and their calls. At times, our second group is kind of lax in recognizing formations and understanding what’s going on. As the season goes, you’ve got to bring them along, and then we’ll hone down a little bit of our playbook, and it’ll get simpler. But right now, when you play a team with a lot of shifting and motion, there are a lot more checks, and so we’ve got to be really A on their game.
But as the season goes, you’ve definitely got to keep pushing, and hopefully we’ll get into a position where we can put those guys in at any point in a game and feel comfortable.
Q: Do you think maybe, even though some of your guys like Kenny Mullen are younger, having the unusual level of experience at a young age helps them be leaders and coach some of the new guys steepen the learning curve?
A: Without a doubt. And too, they’re confident in knowing our scheme, whereas last year it’s tough to lead somebody if you’re not confident in what we’re doing, and getting the checks.
When you look at Kenny, you look at Lawrence, you look at Brian Williams, those are guys who have been in our system more than a year — almost a year and a half now — and so they know what the expectations are, they know what the main checks are. So when you get a young guy, they can go talk to him. A lot of times, peers are a lot more easy to speak to, and I feel confident that they know what to do to get us lined up, so with that being said, they can help those guys get mental reps on the sideline. As we go, you really hope that helps you prepare and get better as far as your depth.
Q: What are you expecting from Indiana State on Saturday night?
A: They’ve got a guy who transferred from Michigan State, (junior wide receiver Donald) Spencer, No. 1, who’s a returning starter. He was a big-time recruit out of high school. He’s a guy who is a BCS type of receiver — he can run, he can catch.
They have nothing to lose, nor do we. At the end of the day, it’s gonna be a good team, very well-coached. They play hard. When you look at that, that’s a team that you’ve got to go out there, you respect them, but we don’t fear them, and we’ve got to go out there and play hard.