For more on Indiana athletics, follow Pete DiPrimio via Twitter at pdiprimio.
BLOOMINGTON -- Lawrence Barnett is eligible to play. That is certain as Indiana prepares to face Massachusetts on Saturday.
But will the junior cornerback return to his starter's role, or at least play a lot, now that he's back in coach Kevin Wilson's good graces?
That's where competitive drama comes into play.
Wilson remains committed that playing time is determined by practice performance. There is enough competition to ensure that, and as last year proved, even if there isn't, Wilson isn't afraid to go young as you don't want to be.
Lowering the standard isn't an option.
So now that Barnett is back in the playing mix after serving his one-game suspension for an unspecified violation of team rules (receiver Kofi Hughes and linebacker Forisse Hardin also are back from one-game suspensions), the former Bishop Luers standout has a shot at returning to his starting role.
It's up to Barnett to make the most of it.
“He's been practicing every day,” Wilson said. “We've been watching him practice. Based on how he practices (this week), we'll see how he plays.
“He played some last year. That doesn't mean he's going to play a lot in this game. We'll wait and see how it goes.”
Barnett started nine games last year and finished with 46 tackles, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery (which he returned 54 yards for a touchdown against Virginia).
That's irrelevant now. On this week's depth chart the starting cornerbacks are Kenny Mullen (also a former Luers standout) and Brian Williams. Greg Heban is listed as Mullen's backup. Barnett is listed as backing up Williams.
“There's been really good competition (for the cornerback spots),” Wilson said. “Other guys have played well. We played reasonably well the other night. There's nothing by default.”
But then, to indicate Barnett won't spend the whole game on the sidelines, Wilson added that, “He'll have a special teams role.”
Hughes faces the same uncertainty even though he led IU in receiving last year with 35 catches for 536 yards. He's listed as the backup to Duwyce Wilson. Shane Wynn and Cody Latimore are listed as the other starting receivers.
“Receiving wise, several of those receivers have played as well or better than Kofi,” Wilson said. “Several defensive backs have played as well or better than Lawrence. Those guys are in competition. That's part of building your team.”
Last week Barnett worked with the scout team to help prepare the offense for Indiana State.
“In some ways that worked better,” Wilson said. “He played against our (top) receivers. That was a nice deal.”
Co-defensive coordinator Doug Mallory was equally adamant that practice will determine Barnett's playing time.
“He'll be right in the mix competing, but we don't name starters now,” Mallory said. “It's how they produce during the week. How well they pick up on the game plan and how well they practice will determine how much they play, if they play.”
And then: “He's looked pretty good,” Mallory said. “He's worked hard.”
That gives Barnett a chance.
“He's back with us,” Wilson said. “It would have been really nice if he had been with us the whole time.”