IU cornerbacks coach Brandon Shelby said he has seen the play of Hoosier teams in the past five years follow a specific theme. One side of the ball thrives, the other falters, and the Hoosiers finish the season with a losing record.
IU’s back-to-back bowl appearances are a sign of improvement, but both seasons came with 6-7 records. Past Hoosier defenses could blame some miscues on an inexperienced secondary, but Shelby said that excuse won’t fly in 2017.
Rising senior Rashard Fant leads a group of cornerbacks who come into the 2017 season with starting experience, including rising junior Tyler Green and rising sophomores Andre Brown Jr. and A’Shon Riggins. Shelby said that experience allows IU to build depth at the position, and the players who populate the depth chart have the opportunity to learn from a seasoned veteran like Fant.
To Shelby, Fant is the reliable, old Cadillac of the group. Shelby knows what to expect from him and in 2017 expects Fant to be a vocal leader who holds everyone accountable when Shelby isn’t there to do so himself.
Shelby said he has already seen Fant take the initiative.
“What I see him doing a lot of is getting guys in the film room on the side, teaching those guys what he knows as a corner, because ultimately I’m not out there,” Shelby said. “I’m too old and too slow. What they see out there in game speed might be a little different from me sitting in the back with the clicker rewinding.”
IU Coach Tom Allen said he has seen Fant recognize the importance of making the most of his last spring ball with the Hoosiers but wants to see him do it more consistently.
“Sometimes in that position you can kind of just be your own guy out there, and that’s OK when you’re younger,” Allen said. “But, as a leader, as an upperclassman senior now coming back after a chance to go pro or not go pro, and he decided to stay, I want to see him elevate and really impact the whole team by his practice habits.”
After the first spring practice, Allen said wide receivers coach Grant Heard told him he was impressed with Fant’s ability to cover. When IU goes up against Big Ten powers like Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State, Shelby said Fant is going to be the guy the Hoosiers rely on to cover each team’s top target.
Fant said this spring he’s focused on what he needs to go up against the conference’s top receivers. That means treating his technique on each play with more importance than he might have earlier in his IU career when the goal was to make plays rather than practice the correct technique.
Whether Fant ensures his teammates are following his lead on the field during practice or in the film room, Allen doesn’t mince words when predicting the possible effect it could have on him.
“That’s where a guy like him can really take his game to another level and really sharpen his skills so he can be the kind of NFL player he wants to be in the future,” Allen said.