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KSU's Evans knows the nickel

8/17/2014

By ARNE GREEN

By ARNE GREEN

Special to The Hays Daily News

MANHATTAN - Randall Evans is new enough to the nickel back position to appreciate its value.

He's also old enough to know the negative connotation it carried not that long ago, suggesting a defensive back helpful in passing situations but not quite good enough to start.

"I take a lot of pride in it because we run nickel 96 percent of the time," said Evans, a senior now in his third year as the fifth defensive back in Kansas State's 4-2-5 alignment. "That means I need to be in the game the whole time where I might be out two plays or more, which is nothing.

"Being in the Big 12 (with teams) running the spread offense, it makes sense that we have that great inside corner at nickel back."

The nickel is a position born out of necessity with the proliferation of wide-open offenses designed to spread defenses and create mismatches for speedy backs and receivers. As a result, K-State seldom lines up in its base 4-3 defense anymore, trading the third linebacker for hybrid corner.

"That's his role," K-State defensive coordinator Tom Hayes said of Evans, who made the move from cornerback to nickel after his redshirt freshman year. "When I first came here he was a freshman walk-on corner from Miami and he didn't know up from down.

"But he learned, and to his credit he overcame some of the weaknesses he had. We saw some ability in him and obviously the last couple of years he's done a nice job at that position."

At 6 feet, 190 pounds, Evans has just the right combination of size and speed to pull it off.

"The thing you've got to understand is he's about half linebacker and half cornerback," said Hayes, who also coaches the secondary. "He's lined up on the best receiver on the team a lot of times in that slot position.

"You've got to cover some people and you've got to be able to fit the run, just like a linebacker would if he was in there. It's a combination and it's a tricky combination."

It's also not for everybody.

"When Nigel Malone was here, he didn't like the nickel back because it's a different kind of way of being a corner," Evans said of Malone, a former all-Big 12 cornerback who intercepted 12 passes for the Wildcats in 2011 and '12. "It's a whole lot different than the cornerback position because there's a lot more to think about.

"Once I learned it over the years, it got easier for me. So you've definitely got to put time into it, just like you've got to put time into any other position."

As it turns out, the position suits Evans' on-field persona to a T.

"The different mentality is that you've got to be aggressive and you've got to be a great tackler and you've got to love to hit," he said. "That's what makes the nickel back so significant.

"One thing I like about it is that I get to hit, because with my size I always grew up to be a great hitter and a great tackler."

Besides, Evans added, it gave him a foot in the door.

"If it wasn't for me playing nickel, I probably wouldn't have been playing two years ago maybe," he said. "I'm just thankful to get that opportunity and to take advantage."

The fact that there's no longer a stigma attached to the nickel back moniker made it all the better.

"You can make a lot of plays," Evans said. "It helps the safeties out in stopping the run and also it helps a lot that instead of having a linebacker trying to stick to a fast receiver, you have a cornerback that can also tackle that fast receiver.

"It's a new, big-time position."