LINCOLN — There are times, Nebraska secondary coach Terry Joseph knows, he has to be the “bad cop” on the practice field. When he has to push a button in a young NU defensive back whose number he might dial next year.
That's when he deploys senior corner Ciante Evans — fresh off a breakout year in which he had 56 tackles and eight pass breakups — as a good cop.
“He translates what I'm trying to tell them in a calming voice,” Joseph said Monday. “He tells them: 'Hey, this is to make you better.' The young guys can get into the playbook and hit a wall where they're stalled out. But he keeps pushing them.”
Evans as the pusher? It's a new role for the 5-foot-11 185-pounder from Arlington, Texas. Until now, he's been the quiet one, soft spoken, quick with a smile or a laugh, absent of the confident, hard edge that last year's secondary leader, Daimion Stafford, could flash.
But Joseph asked Evans to start holding position meetings during winter conditioning. Nebraska introduced peer-led meetings in 2012 as a way of creating more accountability among teammates, so it's Evans — along with walk-on senior Wil Richards and senior corner Andrew Green — setting that daily tone. Evans tries to sit in Joseph-led meetings next to younger defensive backs like safety D.J. Singleton or hybrid Jonathan Rose so they feel more invested and less intimidated.
“I have to embrace that role,” Evans said. “I don't really like being vocal, but the coaches asked me to and the players see me as that type of person. I'm willing to do that.”
Given he's the best and most experienced returning player in the whole defense — ESPN and CBS Sports named him first-team All-Big Ten in 2012 — Evans has little choice but to be willing. Nebraska's breaking in a new middle linebacker — for now, it's sophomore David Santos — and two new starting safeties — for now, juniors Corey Cooper and Harvey Jackson.
Those three positions are typically responsible for making most of Nebraska's defensive calls and switches.
Those three players have six career starts among them. The others competing for those spots have zero starts.
So the good cop writes friendly citations his teammates can digest.
Evans on Santos: “Regardless of his age or where he's at, he has to be the key piece for this defense to work. Because he is the middle linebacker. You had to get on him (Saturday) because he made a check and he said it so low that me and Josh (Mitchell) on the opposite side couldn't hear him. So I'm like, 'David, c'mon now. You gotta be louder, more authoritative. This is your defense.'”
And Evans on the two safeties: “We got Corey back there, and we got Harvey — they might hesitate on some calls. But I told them, 'If we wrong, we wrong, we just gonna play it wrong.' We can come back and correct on the sideline. But just communicate something. If I don't like it or somebody else doesn't like it, then we can communicate and check. But we just need to all be on the same page.”
Joseph said he's liked Evans' vocal presence through two workouts, calling him an “extension” of Joseph, defensive coordinator John Papuchis and coach Bo Pelini. In the workout Saturday, Pelini, a former safety at Ohio State, lurked behind the secondary barking out instructions and teaching on-the-fly nuances of body positioning and coverage techniques. He was particularly engaged with the safeties on deep post or seam routes.
Evans, meanwhile, got teammates excited when he or other defensive backs made a play. He jawed a little with wide receiver Kenny Bell, who quarterback Taylor Martinez repeatedly tried to target — with little success — while Evans covered him. Yes, it's still valuable to lead by example, too.
“He knows what those young guys are fighting through to get to a level where they can play consistently,” Joseph said.
ĽNOTES: Evans is ranked as the No. 23 cornerback prospect for the 2014 NFL draft according to CBS Sports' NFLDraftScout.com. He's the only Husker secondary player among the prospects ranked.
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