When you know what you’re doing, the possibilities of the position make football as fun as football can be as far as Ciante Evans is concerned.
“You get to blitz, you get to be all over the field, they can disguise you,” the junior Husker nickel back said. “It’s a fun thing. But at the same time you have to really know what you’re doing.”
Yes, Nebraska’s nickel man is worth so much more than that in Bo Pelini’s scheme.
There’s a reason why a couple years ago you’d hear some Husker coaches say there was no more valuable player on the defense than Eric Hagg. And, remember, Ndamukong Suh was on those defenses.
Evans is learning why the position is so valued.
In dipping his toes into the nickel spot for the first time last year, he found out what anybody who tries to play it finds out.
It’s pretty stinking hard. It takes work and a lot of knowing.
“Just knowing leverages and keys,” Evans said. “I was so used to playing corner, so I just thought that by going in and playing man, I’d be fine. But it’s way more than (that). Because you’re in the run fit, and you have so many things you need to be able to look for to determine your leverage.”
And so it was an offseason full of football homework for Evans.
Among his tutors has been Hagg himself. Evans talks to Hagg about the position about once a month, looking for whatever tips there are to be had.
Hagg’s advice: Be humble, stay focused and know from the get-go that things are not always going to go your way.
Evans’ work has paid off so far. Few players have drawn more praise this offseason than him.
First-year Husker defensive backs coach Terry Joseph describes the 5-foot-11, 185-pounder from Arlington, Texas, as “Steady Eddie.”
“He’s a lot more confident,” Joseph said. “He’s always in position.”
He’s even been in the right position in the meeting room, sitting in a chair right next to true freshman Charles Jackson, who is working behind Evans in the nickel and figures to have a role in Nebraska’s defense this fall.
Joseph said Evans is “kind of Charles’ translator. (He says), ‘This is what we’re looking to do in that formation. These are the routes you’re going to get.’"
Evans said it’s easy to help because Jackson makes some of the same mistakes now that Evans did last fall.
“I just try to help him as much as I can so he doesn’t make the same mistakes I did,” Evans said.
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Joseph said that the 5-11, 175-pound Jackson is physically ready “to rock and roll.”
But the tough part, as it is for every young player, is applying the lessons in the meeting room to live action.
“You can do a lot of the things on the board, and you can watch a lot of film,” Joseph said of Jackson. “But then when you get out there and you’re against an offense like ours that’s high tempo, it looks a lot different than it does on paper when it’s still. But I think in the last week-and-a-half, we’ve seen him take some positive strides in the concepts of the defense. And he’s going to be a guy who we depend on.”
Joseph hit on some other topics in the Husker secondary, including:
* Senior Daimion Stafford appears to have one safety job locked down. As for who will line up next to him? The competition is still going on between senior P.J. Smith and sophomore Harvey Jackson.
“Here are two big safeties but they bring different things to the game,” Joseph said. “P.J.s been around the block a few times, got some experience. But Harvey is long and athletic and has a chance to make a great play.”
Joseph said that ultimately “the most consistent guy” will win out.
* Josh Mitchell has had an impressive fall camp, and is in the mix in the cornerback position battles.
The 5-foot-11, 155-pound Mitchell played in eight games last season and started against Washington before being moved to a reserve role.
While not big in stature, Mitchell has made up for it in other ways.
“He’s not real big but he really, really flies around and he uses his greatest asset — his speed,” Joseph said. “So he’s like a jitterbug out there. He doesn’t stay on blocks long, and he has a good change of direction and good ball skills. … He’s a lot more locked in this fall camp.”
* Junior cornerback Andrew Green has had a very consistent camp that makes him a lead candidate to secure one of the outside cover jobs. Joseph said he’s been impressed with how Green has handled the position emotionally as much as anything.
I think the emotional part of playing corner is just as important as the physical part because … you can call it what you want, but there are going to be some bad plays out there that you have to bounce back from."
Other corners like junior Mohammed Seisay, who is back after an ankle injury slowed him early in fall camp, and Stanley Jean-Baptiste remain in the running.
While Joseph said Jean-Baptiste needs to work on his consistency, he thinks the 6-3, 215-pound junior is “as physically gifted as any corner I’ve been around.”
* Sophomore Corey Cooper’s versatility could help him contribute this fall, perhaps as a dime backer.
Certainly Cooper’s 6-1, 210-pound size gives coaches some options.
“Coop’s a body type for a banger and really gives us a different dynamic back there — a guy who can play in the box a lot but also is athletic enough to cover,” Joseph said. “So we like where Coop’s at and he’s probably one of our best blitzers. So obviously when we start game-planning there will be something in there for him.”