IU’s Taylor stepping up at corner for Hoosier defense

The first half of Reese Taylor’s career at Indiana has been anything but smooth sailing.

The dynamic prep quarterback’s initial transition to cornerback was aborted early in his freshman season when the Hoosiers’ signal callers started going down en masse. As a sophomore, it was problems with the former Mr. Football winner’s own body, including a hand injury prior to the opener, that kept him from just putting one step in front of another.

The second half of Taylor’s IU career begins this Saturday, when the Hoosiers kick off with No. 8 Penn State. Taylor likes to think there is a reason why his sophomore season wasn’t so easy.

“It was for me to just focus in like, yeah, tomorrow is not guaranteed,” Taylor said. “Me playing this game is not guaranteed.”

The former Ben Davis star did make some plays when he was on the field. After missing two of the first five games of 2019 to injury, Taylor came away with a game-sealing interception at Maryland, showing some of the playmaking instincts IU coaches believe he has. From there, Taylor was able to build in confidence, rotating in more and more across from star freshman Tiawan Mullen.

There just seems to be an urgency about Taylor this season, who has taken to perfecting small details. That means stretching, taking care of his body. He has also been staying after practice with Mullen, working through release drills, asking for feedback from the defense’s 2019 leader in pass breakups.

“He asks me what I see that he’s doing wrong. I tell him. If he sees me doing wrong, he tells me,” Mullen said. “Just getting each other better, everybody on the same page. You can’t tell who is the top guy. Everyone is on the same page, making plays out there.”

There is a hope among IU’s coaches that Taylor and classmate Jaylin Williams are prepared to make a leap, pairing with Mullen to give the Hoosiers a lockdown trio at corner.

In fact, IU defensive coordinator Kane Wommack mentioned Mullen, the preseason Bednarik Award watch-lister, in the same breath as Taylor this week.

“As excited as I am about a guy like Tiawan Mullen, to me,  Reese Taylor is right there in that conversation,” Wommack said. “He’s just a guy who has played a lot in his life. He’s seen offense, he understands what offenses are trying to do from a recognition standpoint. He’s very instinctive.”

While Taylor isn’t the biggest player on the defensive side of the ball, measuring 5-foot-11, 185 pounds, he has proven to be a physical player, unafraid of contact.

“He’s crafty, you know what I mean? He finds ways to get guys on the ground, and he’s a very physical player,” Wommack said. “To me, playmakers, we have to find ways to get them around the ball. We talk about instinctive playmakers within our defense, he’s in that conversation with anybody on the field.

“I think he understands our concepts better, and when you have wisdom matched with instincts, that can be a very deadly combination for a dynamic corner. And I think he’s on his way to becoming that.”

There was certainly a lot of time to stress the mental side of the game this offseason, as the pandemic forced the Hoosiers into more film-watching sessions on Zoom. When they returned to campus, there was more time for individual work, because the Hoosiers couldn’t work in bigger groups.

Those circumstances did provide Taylor and his teammates more of an opportunity to focus on small details. In the bigger picture, the defense is filled with experienced juniors who are looking to take that next step, including Taylor, Williams, and safeties Devon Matthews and Jamar Johnson in the secondary.

“We are good to go, full speed, full throttle,” Taylor said. “We are able to play at 100 percent and not doubt what we are doing, doubt our assignments. I feel like the secondary, we have all jelled together.”

Taylor not only has a chance to improve the Hoosier secondary but also special teams. What especially hurt about last year’s hand injury was that it eliminated Taylor’s chance to field punts, and the return role went exclusively to receiver Whop Philyor.

Mr. Football is back in that mix in 2020.

“It kind of hurt me a little bit, because I was looking forward to it,” Taylor said. “This year, I’m ready. If they put me back there, I’m ready to take it, I’m ready to take the job.”

Whether it’s punt returns or picks, the Hoosiers are hopeful Taylor will flash his playmaking ability once the season kicks.

“Reese Taylor, really, sky’s the limit,” IU corners coach Brandon Shelby said during fall camp. “He’s 100 percent, he’s ready to go, his mind is right. Ultimately, last year, just kinda getting some of the dust off of being a DB, I started seeing that. Now he knows he’s a corner, there’s no ifs, ands, or buts about it. 

“We gotta keep him healthy. I want to see him get through these eight, nine games and be the player he’s born to be and be strong and finish and see what we’ve got after that.”

7 comments

  1. It will really help the defense out to have two or more corners that can really challenge receivers and QBs. If the DL is improved, as it seems, the ability to make passes hard to complete will be easier for the corners as teams will have limited time to complete passes. I want to see how good the defense and the team can be this year on Saturday. PSU will be a big challenge and if the Hoosiers show they are capable of beating them it will go along way to get fans to buy into this team, maybe even H4H.

  2. Like RT a lot. A playmaker on D that can be relied on to make a difference. He’ll make PR’s more interesting for sure.

  3. Might be seeing a lot of ousted coaches and assistants soon….(especially those nearing the end of massive buyouts). Pandemic and post-pandemic moves to bring new coaches in for vastly reduced salary numbers. Reality is going to hit soon.

  4. Just think of the fortunes for Archie….Got all those millions and got a 3-year pass because of all the terrible Crean toe-dribblers and bricklayers he inherited. Last year pass because no NCAA tournament at beginning of pandemic. This year another pass because of disruptions from ongoing pandemic, no crowds, and the potential for another season cut short….?

    Archie may have five years under his belt with never having to prove a thing. 15-20 million in earnings all treated as an automatic mulligan. Timing is everything in life.

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