Williams a key in maturing IU secondary

As Indiana cornerback Jaylin Williams plots out his day, there are just two points.

Point A and Point B.

“Just the stadium and back home, really,” Williams said. “Because I got all I need right now. Focus on the season. Just the stadium and back. That’s all I’m worried about.”

In narrowing his focus, the junior will hopefully swerve the misfortunate of catching COVID-19. Hopefully, he’s also ready to take the next step in his football career.

For the Hoosiers, both are important. Much has been said about the talents of sophomore Tiawan Mullen, one of the breakout stars of the 2019 season. But IU needs other players, namely juniors Reese Taylor and Williams, to solidify the secondary’s other side.

It all goes back to Point A and Point B, though it’s more figurative. After last season, Williams and IU cornerbacks coach Brandon Shelby sat down and discussed where a talented corner, who had received his share of early playing time, really wanted to end up.

What did he want from his life? Spiritually and academically, where did Williams want to go?

“I’ve seen a change in him, in just the way he has matured,” Shelby said. “He comes to work. He takes coaching, as well. He’s in his playbook. … When you take that next step of being an upperclassman, not only is he holding himself to a different standard, he’s also holding young guys to a standard that started from the guys (like) Rashard Fant, Mike Hunter, Tim Bennett.

“We are starting to see kind of what I saw back then, kind of transforming here.”

The secondary, in Shelby’s view, seems more connected, more communicative. More players are willing to lead. When the Hoosiers reunited following the scattering of the pandemic, Williams, in particular, was one of the players who took the biggest leap in his conditioning level. He was ready to go.

Now it’s a question of whether a more mature secondary will bring more production to the field. It’s a group filled with quick-twitch athletes, but the Hoosiers ranked 10th in the Big Ten in pass defense last season. Mullen had 11 pass breakups in conference play. The rest of the secondary, including cornerbacks and safeties, collected 13.

In a defensive scheme that often brings pressure and leaves corners on an island in coverage, there is always a lot riding on the development of IU’s secondary. The physical and personal maturation of Williams and others has been an encouraging sign.

“Someone has to hold the clicker, someone has to be a coach when I’m not there, and I’m starting to see that,” Shelby said. “I see those guys when we had to come in and test (for COVID) every day, those guys sending out the text messages, letting them know what time the corners are here and holding each other responsible if someone is not up.

“Ultimately, at the end of the day, the one carrot that is dangling out there is you can mess around — and hopefully this doesn’t happen, but test positive — the next guy has to be ready to play.”

While the trio of Mullen, Williams, and Taylor is intriguing in itself, the Hoosiers will have to be deeper than that.

In that regard, Shelby’s praise of redshirt freshman Larry Tracy may be just as important as the development of IU’s top trio.

“He’s making plays,” Shelby said. “As a freshman, he was a little scatterbrained … but you can understand. He’s kind of locked in. Got into college, started to understand the flows of college and he’s locked into football. I’ve seen a change in him on and off the field.”

That’s four deep. And with senior Raheem Layne, who has been cross-training at safety, the Hoosiers have at least five returners who can contribute at the corner position.

There have also been positive early reviews of Christopher Keys, a freshman out of Collins, Miss. But there has admittedly been an adjustment period for him and fellow freshman Lem Watley-Neely.

“As true freshmen coming in, I wish I had those guys years ago because it would have made that transition a lot easier for us,” Shelby said, referencing their top-notch athleticism.

“The town (Keys is) from, things are a little bit slower. You just get here and all of a sudden it’s just go, go, go.”

Whether a freshman like Keys can settle in like Mullen remains to be seen. But expectations are certainly high for the aforementioned sophomore, who found himself on preseason watch lists in 2020 after a rocket up the depth chart in 2019.

Mullen’s reward has been harsher treatment from Shelby.

“Every time he messes up, he might get 50-yard up-downs where someone else might get 10,” Shelby said. “I’m a lot harder on him because … after having a successful freshman year, (he can’t) fall into a sophomore slump.”

“I know I have to push or he’ll yell at me,” Mullen confirmed. “Just doing whatever I need to do for the team and things like that. If we reach team goals, whatever accolades for me that’s out there, they will come.”

Their objectives are clear.

For Mullen, it’s to keep progressing.

For Taylor, it’s to stay healthy after nagging injuries held him back as a sophomore.

For Williams, it’s to continue to grow as a person and player.

If he does that, Shelby believes Williams could go far. Tuesday, he said Williams has the potential to be a “household name.” In that conversation the two had following last season, Shelby told Williams he could play beyond college.

But first things first.

Point A before Point B.

“He wanted me to be more of a leader this year,” Williams said. “He said that if I do what I need to do and the things I need to work on, that I can potentially go to the next level. Basically, that’s what I’m working on, trying to get to that next level. Basically, trying to help IU, right now, win as much as possible.”

3 comments

  1. IU has the secondary players to be a great secondary but they need to step up this year. It will help them a lot to have the front pressure the QB every play so he has to make a quick decision to release the ball or get sacked. With less time needed to cover the receivers the better the DBs look.

    It will be important for IU to have at least three quality corners and they have others that could break on the scene this year like Mullen did last year.

    1. Taylor is one and Williams has the speed to be another top corner if he develops the right techniques. Right now from from practices, they are talking up Lem, Tracy, Keys, and Josh S. as players making moves that could lead to playing time. Mullen showed last year that it is possible for a talented freshman to excel on the field and not have to wait for the following year.

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