Written By T.J. Inman (@TJHoosierhuddle)
Position Battle Primer – Defensive Backs
Freezing temperatures, falling snow and a fairly constant gray gloom hangs over Indiana. Fear not fellow Hoosiers, spring is coming and the IU football team will begin preparations for the 2015 season with the March 26th opening of spring practice. Our coverage of “Spring Ball” began with some opening questions and continues with a look at one of the primary position battles that will be waged as IU tries to replace departed starting defensive backs Tim Bennett and Michael Hunter.
Names to Know
- Rashard Fant (RS SO)
- Donovan Clark (SO)
- Kenny Mullen (RS SR)
- Noel Padmore (RS SO)
- Laray Smith (RS SO)
- Tyler Green (FR)
- Andre Brown (FR)
Defensive back has been an area of concern for IU for as long as I can remember. Tim Bennett and Michael Hunter combined to provide the Hoosiers with a very solid starting duo for the past two seasons but Bennett graduated and Hunter is using his final season of eligibility to play at Oklahoma State. There are several intriguing options but not much experience and IU enters the spring with a lot more questions about the DB position than there are answers.
One starter figures to be Rashard Fant, a 5’10” redshirt sophomore from Georgia. Fant saw significant playing time last season and showed flashes of the cover skills that had IU fans so excited about him coming out of high school (he was a 4-star recruit). Fant is extremely quick and displayed solid instincts to break plays up with five pass break-ups. The biggest drawback on Fant would have to be his size. He’s only 5’10” (which is big to me but not by FBS football standards) and was listed at only 170 pounds last season. We know he can cover quick receivers in the slot but IU will probably need him to consistently cover some outside receivers, will his frame allow that to happen or will he be overwhelmed by larger targets?
The other starter heading into spring ball would probably be Donovan Clark. Clark, a 5’10” (again, a bit shorter than you’d like) CB from Fort Wayne saw playing time as a Freshman last season and generally impressed while on the field. Clark is a bit larger than Fant (came in at 185 pounds and has bulked up since) and showed that he is definitely good enough to be a contributor in the B1G. Clark played in all 12 games last season but he doesn’t have a ton of snaps under his belt. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of more experienced options to turn to and I think Clark’s talent puts him as the other starter on the outside. Two additional names to watch are Noel Padmore and Laray Smith. Padmore (5’11” redshirt sophomore from Georgia) has no experience but he was considered to be a talented prospect when he came to Bloomington. At the very least, I’d expect Padmore to be in the rotation this season. Smith (6’0” redshirt sophomore from New York) came to IU billed as an explosive running back. He fumbled a kick off the first time he touched the ball and never really got things going as a running back before the IU coaches surprisingly switched him to defensive back. Smith is intriguing because of his build (he’s bigger than most of IU’s DBs) and has explosive athleticism that can be seen in his high school highlight tape. If Smith has grasped the basics of cornerback play after a year of work, he could be an unexpected boost to the Hoosiers secondary. His development will be something to watch for this spring.
What about the “slot”? When opponents deploy shifty inside receivers that are too quick for any of IU’s linebackers, the slot corner will be called upon to be the “nickel” corner (or 5th defensive back). Kenny Mullen received a medical redshirt waiver and he returns after missing most of last season with an injury. Mullen has the most experience in this secondary and I think his best position has always been slot corner. He’s expected to be 100% for Spring ball and I’d expect for him to lock up this position.
The New Guys
Tyler Green was arguably the most highly-regarded member of IU’s 2015 recruiting class. Green (6’3” from Maryland) brings some things to the Hoosiers secondary that no one else does. He has height and tremendous length that can’t be taught or coached. Green believes that his strength and physicality are his greatest assets and scouting services agreed. I think he will have an immediate impact and should eventually settle into a very nice CB partnership with Rashard Fant. Andre Brown (6’0” from Georgia) chose IU over Minnesota and Duke and was listed as an athlete. Kevin Wilson was quick to point out that Brown was recruited as a corner and IU expects him to contribute at that position. I don’t think Brown will do much more than play special teams (or redshirt) this season but he looks like a solid addition for the future.
Questions and Predictions
-Is Rashard Fant ready to be a full-time starter?
-Is Kenny Mullen fully healthy and can he lock down the nickel position?
-Which returning player with little experience will step up and seize an opportunity? Clark, Padmore, Smith?
As I wrote earlier, I think Fant and Clark enter the spring as the favorites to land starting spots and Mullen enters as the lead candidate for the nickel spot. I predict that Tyler Green will live up to the hype and that by the time the Big Ten season rolls around, Green’s size (and prodigious athleticism) will have him starting with Fant as the outside cornerbacks. Clark and Padmore will be the primary back-ups while Mullen is backed up by Smith at nickel.