Indiana sophomore Tiawan Mullen isn’t helping his own cause.
In an effort to get Mullen more involved in the run defense and utilize his dynamic skills in a variety of ways, defensive coordinator Kane Wommack has been putting the sophomore cornerback at the husky position.
Mullen is happy to play the hybrid linebacker-safety position in Indiana’s 4-2-5 scheme.
But the name husky?
Mullen won’t have any part of it.
“He calls it the nickelback position, he will not call it the husky,” Wommack remarked at his regular media availability on Monday.
Mullen’s story is slightly different.
“They’re allowing me to call it the nickelback instead of the husky,” Mullen said to the media on Wednesday with a grin.
For now, Wommack is fine with nickelback, or really whatever — as long at it works. If he keeps delivering like he did on Saturday against Rutgers, Mullen can probably call the position whatever he wants.
Mullen produced 7 tackles, including 2.5 sacks, and probably still has Scarlet Knight quarterback Noah Vedral looking over his shoulder.
Trouble is, a stat line like that looks a lot like a player worthy of being referred to as a “husky.”
But why the aversion to the label?
Perhaps rightly so, the 5-foot-10 and 176 pound Mullen doesn’t believe the name fits when compared to the type of players that IU has typically placed in the position.
“I feel like husky is more bulky guys like Lino (Marcelino Ball) or Fitz (Bryant Fitzgerald),” Mullen said. “Me, I’m just a nickelback.
“Since youth football I just heard the nickelback. That’s what I was brought up on.”
Mullen received well deserved praise as a true freshman for his exploits defending passes. He led the Big Ten in pass breakups in 2019 with 13.
But his speed and reckless style also makes the Fort Lauderdale product an effective tackler, and that spawned the idea to get him more involved in the rush game.
“To me he is a guy that is crafty and explosive,” Wommack said. “He blitzes about two inches off the ground so he is hard to pick up. That can always be a difficult thing as well when you play low and fast. You find creative ways to get in the backfield.”
Bringing down quarterbacks is something Mullen has had his eyes on as an area where he could contribute more.
“I was practicing the blitzing throughout the week and kept getting better,” Mullen said. “I am a much better blitzer than last year. That was something that I wanted to work on and I showed a bunch of progress. When my name is called to go get the quarterback, I am going to get the job done.”
If he keeps producing like he did against Rutgers, sack-master or heat seeking missile could be new names for his role.
— Indiana On BTN (@IndianaOnBTN) November 1, 2020
What was the key to contributing three sacks on Saturday from the new spot?
Mullen believes it was the art of deception.
“I think it was successful because we disguised it well,” he said. “I did not show any details that I was coming. When it was time to come, I improvised and got the quarterback down.”
And being a smaller husky, or, uh, nickelback, actually proves to be a benefit in that regard.
“Sometimes you have to hide behind the d-linemen and get the look you want and at the last minute go underneath,” Mullen added.
Mullen has learned that the art of blitzing from the secondary is multi-faceted. He doesn’t run blindly into a blocker. Instead, he reads the defense.
That’s how he tallied his final half sack of the afternoon.
“With the last sack, the running back was looking straight at me,” Mullen said.
Instead of giving himself up, he waited.
And that’s when Mullen looked more nickelback than husky.
“When he (Vedral) tried to release outside I just used my speed and grabbed him,” Mullen said. “He couldn’t outrun me.”
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