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Notebook – IU football leaders discuss final preparations for Illinois

As kickoff nears for Indiana football’s season-opening game with Illinois Friday night in Bloomington, four of its most experienced players met with the media following practice Tuesday afternoon. Here is a sampling of what cornerback Tiawan Mullen, wide receiver D.J. Matthews and linebacker Cam Jones had to say ahead of the first contest of the season:

Matthews eager to return

For two-and-a-half games last season, wide receiver D.J. Matthews looked to be one of the most important and explosive players for Indiana, weaving through hordes of defenders for a punt return touchdown against Idaho and making several key grabs deep down the field against Cincinnati before sustaining a season-ending knee injury against Western Kentucky.

Almost a year removed from the injury that sidelined him for the bulk of his first season in Bloomington, Matthews is confident in his mindset as he makes his long-awaited return to football.

“It’s just going out there and being free,” Matthews said. “Not worrying about any injuries, not worrying about any mistakes.”

In the year since Matthews’ injury, the speedy wideout has developed another passion outside of football – cooking. Matthews said that he has cooked for about 75% of his teammates, his culinary specialties being chicken, lamb chops and hot dogs.

“Whatever you want on the grill, I can put it on the grill,” Matthews said. “I’m pretty nice in the kitchen, too.”

Mullen back to full strength, brother making improvements

While one playmaker makes his much-anticipated return on the offensive side of the ball, another returns on defense in former All-American cornerback Tiawan Mullen. Mullen played in just seven games last season and was limited by a lingering ankle injury throughout the campaign.

Headed into 2022, Mullen says he is back to full strength and leaves fall camp 100% healthy.

“I feel like myself again,” Mullen said Tuesday.

Mullen’s decision to return to college football and not enter the NFL Draft came as somewhat of a surprise last offseason, but the fourth-year defensive back said he could not leave on the sour note that was the 2-10 2021 season, in addition to the team adding his younger brother, Trevell, in its 2022 freshman recruiting class.

With Trevell’s first fall camp in the books, Tiawan has been impressed with everything that he has seen from his younger sibling so far in his time on campus.

“He’s a special player, some days he’s better than me,” Mullen said. “One day, he will be.”

“Swarm D” is still on the menu

Although former defensive coordinator Kane Wommack left IU for the South Alabama head coaching job following the 2020 season, his impact has remained prevalent on the defensive group. Most notably, the mantra and style of play he heralded during his time in Bloomington, Swarm D, have stood the test of time.

The defensive ideology of getting as many defenders around the football as possible and forcing timely turnovers as a result proved pivotal for the Hoosiers in the 2019 and 2020 seasons. Despite Wommack being two years removed from coaching at Indiana, linebacker Cam Jones is still using the former defensive coordinator’s catch phrases to describe the way he expects the defense to play.

“It takes all 11 of us to swarm the ball,” Jones said.

Where in specific will the Hoosier defenders be swarming? Jones mentioned Illini running back Chase Brown, who ran for 151 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries in the team’s 38-6 win over Wyoming Saturday, as a player that they have to stop in order to win Friday night’s contest under the newly-installed LED lights at Memorial Stadium.

“He’s fast out of the backfield. He runs hard, he breaks a lot of tackles,” Jones said. “They find ways to give him the ball, we just have to do us as a team and as a defense, and we’ll be fine.”

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