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IU football 2021 position previews: The cornerbacks

The Daily Hoosier is previewing each position group during the final days leading up to the opening kickoff of the 2021 Indiana football season on Sept. 4 against Iowa.

Today we take a look at the cornerbacks.


We’ll start our 2021 position previews with the group many feel is the program’s best going into the season.

Not everyone is fortunate enough to have an All-Big Ten cornerback, and Indiana was the only team in the league to have two.  Both of them are back along with a highly respected third piece of the puzzle and a lot of younger talent waiting on their chance.

WHO IS GONE

This might be the real headline in the cornerback room.

Indiana’s cornerbacks produced eight interceptions and 13 breakups in eight games in 2020 — and everyone is back for the 2021 campaign.

THE 2021 ROSTER

RETURNING WITH EXPERIENCE

Tiawan Mullen headlines the cornerback position in 2021.  Indiana’s first ever first-team All-American at the cornerback, Mullen took a big step forward as a sophomore, showing off his versatility to cover both inside and on the edge, and also serve as a disruptive force in the offensive backfield.  Mullen has added bulk to his frame during the offseason as he looks to once again elevate his game.  The sky is the limit for the future NFL performer.

Jaylin Williams is good enough that opposing offenses cannot just avoid Mullen all day long.  A second-team All-Big Ten performer, Williams was tied for the team lead in interceptions with four.

Reese Taylor doesn’t get the headlines, but the former high school quarterback has developed into a talented defensive back.  Taylor led the team in breakups with seven, and although he isn’t tall, his strength provides a physical presence against bigger receivers.

NAMES ON THE RISE/IMPACT NEWCOMERS

While the top three on the depth chart are clear, Indiana likes the up-and-coming talent in the room.

Christopher Keys is in his second season and saw action in three games last year.  He is likely to be one of the first to rotate in.

Josh Sanguinetti was listed as a the No. 2 free safety on depth chart going into fall camp, but the addition of Ole Miss transfer safety Jonathan Haynes could cloud things.  Sanguinetti was with the cornerbacks last year and we’ll list him with both groups for now.

Larry Tracy III is a program veteran with nine games of experience on special teams and at cornerback over two seasons.

Lem Watley-Neely is in his second season.  He saw action in two games on special teams and at cornerback.

True freshman Larry Smith III was ranked the No. 29 cornerback nationally in the class of 2021.

WHAT THEY ARE SAYING

Cornerbacks coach Brandon Shelby on having a veteran group:

“Really excited for those guys. Those guys have played a lot of football and they know me very well. They know the expectations. To this point, they’ve done a good job at meeting those expectations. To have a room that understands football, understands where I’m coming from, and understands what we’re trying to attack, it allows us to do some other things that maybe we couldn’t have done in the past. We’re excited for that veteran group. Those guys hold each other accountable. We’re looking forward to big things with them.”

Tiawan Mullen on how he wants to improve this year:

“I feel like in all areas I can be a better player. Putting the team first is the most important thing in my eyes and as long as we got our stuff together in the offseason, getting the guys back together and working with them and fixing errors. I can just communicate better and be more vocal, really. We did a great job with that last year, but things can always improve.”

Reese Taylor on the standard set after 2020:

“This year, the level [of competition] has increased even more. It is a new standard being set. It is a more positive and intense standard, and we cannot settle for less. As a defense, everything is more intense for us to get to the ball and be one piece and gel together.”

THE OUTLOOK

Has Indiana ever had a group of cornerbacks who can dictate the game and impose their will like they do in 2021?

If this group stays healthy they should be the best in the Big Ten, and one of the best in the country.  In a league that doesn’t have a lot of proven high-end talent at quarterback, Indiana’s cornerbacks could wreak havoc in 2021.


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