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BLOOMINGTON -- Kenny Mullen doesn't rush to run. Let's get that straight. Indiana's way-before-dawn workouts are far too demanding for that.
So when the football Hoosiers, during winter preparations for what they hope is a breakthrough season, had 6 a.m. and even some 5 a.m. workouts, Mullen gives himself time to prepare.
Time, of course, being relative.
“I have to get up 30 minutes before just so I can wake up,” the former Bishop Luers standout said. “For me to be fully awake and come ready to do what we come into as far as conditioning, I have to be fully prepared for it.”
Not everyone is so willing.
“A lot of guys get up 10 minutes before, rush in and get where they need to be,” Mullen said. “I can't do that.”
Mullen is a sophomore cornerback with lofty aspirations. He has started and come off the bench. He has seen the Hoosier defense thrive occasionally, struggle consistently. He understands that the defense, perhaps more than anything else, will determine IU's bowl fate -- for this season, and beyond.
Last season the Hoosiers gave up 163 points in their last three games, and allowed 231.3 rushing yards in every game. This wasn't a shock. Bad defense has become an annual Cream 'n Crimson tradition no matter the head coach. Now it's Kevin Wilson. Before it was Bill Lynch, Terry Hoeppner, Gerry DiNardo and Cam Cameron.
None of those coaches could develop a unit that rose to even the level of Big Ten mediocrity, let alone a unit you could win with.
The Hoosiers, Mullen said, are tired of hearing about it. They met with co-defensive coordinator Doug Mallory, former co-defensive coordinator Mike Ekeler and cornerbacks coach Brandon Shelby. Now that spring practice has started, they hope to do something about it.
“We redefined our standards as a defense,” Mullen said. “Every day we try to meet those standards. Anything less than that and there are consequences.
“We are carrying that chip on our shoulders. No one wants to be called the worst defense in the Big Ten. We take that with aggression. We take it on the field and compete with the offense. We're trying to be better on both offense and defense.”
What will it take for the defense to become a strength rather than a liability?
“We need to keep playing like we have these first couple of practices,” Mullen said. “I feel like we've come a long way. Everybody is flying to the ball, attacking the ball and trying to force turnovers.
“We're trying to become a great defense in the Big Ten. We have to keep practicing hard, know our assignments and fly to the ball.”
Last year Mullen played in 11 of IU's 12 games and started five. He totaled 33 tackles and four pass breakups. He also returned one kickoff for 16 yards. He's looking for more this season.
“Individually I have a lot to work on -- studying film, studying myself. I need to come out of my breaks faster. I need to be more aggressive on the ball. Just little things, but little things separate us from being a great team.”
Expectations of greatness have risen under Wilson. IU was 1-11 in his first season, 4-8 last year. With eight home games next season, the hope is the Hoosiers can reach at least six victories to become bowl eligible.
“Whether we have eight home games or eight away games,” Mullen said, “we really feel like this is our season.
“We're three years in (to the Wilson program). We know what to expect. We know what's coming our way. We know we can play with any team in the Big Ten. It's about putting it out there, putting it on film on Saturdays.
“We have a good team coming back. We're very mature as a team. We're an upperclassmen team. There aren't any more excuses about being young. Just go out and play and show our talents.”
Will tapping into NFL coaching help turnaround Indiana's perennially struggling football defense?
We're about to find out.
IU has hired William Inge to be co-defensive coordinator (with veteran Doug Mallory) and linebackers coach.
Inge was an assistant defensive line coach for the NFL's Buffalo Bills last season. He spent the previous two years as the University of Buffalo defensive coordinator and linebackers coach. He's also coached linebackers and Cincinnati and San Diego State, plus was the recruiting coordinator at Iowa. Inge played at Iowa in the early 1990s.
“Williams has worked with some of the top coaches in our industry – Chan Gailey, Dave Wannstedt, Brian Kelly, Jeff Quinn and Chuck Long – at the college level and in the NFL, where our players aspire to one day,” coach Kevin Wilson said in a university release. “He's a Midwest guy with Big Ten ties. There is no doubt that he is the right fit for our staff. He stood out in a deep and qualifed pool of candidates.”
Inge replaces Mike Ekeler, who left for USC last month.
“Coach Wilson has proven he builds, shapes and molds young men into not only great players, but great adults,” Inge said in the release. “It is clear with his leadership and guidance this program is headed in the right direction.”