ORLANDO, Fla. — Ask Nebraska’s Stanley Jean-Baptiste about his pick-six against Minnesota last month and he won’t be able to hold back the smile.
The former receiver doesn’t get many opportunities these days to put the football in his hands and display his athleticism. He’s a 6-foot-2, 215-pound cornerback whose blend of speed and strength can often go unnoticed as he’s shadowing receivers, or processing route combinations, or sitting on the sideline and waiting for another chance.
“You don’t really show it on defense,” he said. “That’s why I kind of miss wide receiver a little bit, scoring those touchdowns.”
End zone celebrations will always be a rarity for the junior now that he’s a cornerback. But position coach Terry Joseph thinks that Jean-Baptiste could start revealing more of his physical gifts as he continues to invest more time at improving his craft.
Learning his responsibilities with the scheme. Refining his technique at the position. Familiarizing himself with receivers’ tendencies and strategies.
“This offseason’s going to be huge for him,” Joseph said.
Jean-Baptiste knows it, too.
He’s a menace in man-to-man coverage. Husker receivers say it’s Jean-Baptiste and Ciante Evans who terrorize them the most during practice drills. Jean-Baptiste’s best game this year came against Ohio State, Joseph said, when he held Devin Smith without a catch. Jean-Baptiste had five pass breakups against Northwestern — he says he should have had six, but he dove and missed on a touchdown pass because he expected an underthrown ball.
But Nebraska’s defensive system calls for its corners to do more than just guard receivers one-on-one.
Most commonly it’s the matchup zone coverage, when NU’s defensive backs aggressively react to routes after the snap, seemingly applying man-to-man principles after beginning the play in a zone look.
Veteran Huskers say it requires a confident, assertive and savvy mentality.
“The more he gets familiar and comfortable with how we’re playing different concepts, the more he’ll play,” Joseph said. “He has the physical tools to be about as good as he wants to be.”
It’s why nearly all the Florida schools recruited the Miami native. Jean-Baptiste remembers getting interest from everybody but the Gators and Hurricanes. The NCAA Eligibility Center questioned a test score, though, and he spent a season redshirting at Fort Scott Community College.
He was a high school safety and receiver, then a full-time pass-catcher. Now, he’s been a cornerback for the last year and a half.
His family’s coming to Orlando to watch him play, but Jean-Baptiste can’t make any guarantees about how many snaps he’ll get because he’s still working to gain the coaches’ trust. He started four straight games midway through the season, but his role diminished a bit in November.
He hopes to showcase more of the potential he displayed during that 48-yard runback in a 38-14 win against Minnesota on Nov. 17 — he tucked the football in his right arm and long-strided away from would-be tacklers on his way to the end zone.
Instincts took over on that play. “Yeah, I had to score,” Jean-Baptiste said.
Now he needs to make it look that easy every snap.
“His mind is slowing his feet down,” Joseph said. “It takes time and reps. Duplicate doing it right. He has to train himself to be more consistent.”
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