LINCOLN — Stanley Jean-Baptiste is 6-foot-3, 220 pounds and talks in a low, almost furtive drawl. Josh Mitchell is 5-11, 160 and one of the team's hubs of energy.
Both are fitting like a glove as two of the Huskers' top corners. Both are trying to stave off competitors vying for their spots. And Jean-Baptiste, a converted wide receiver who didn't fully pick up the position until spring camp of 2012, is keeping a top corner job right now with several good plays.
“This is the best week he's ever had in the program,” coach Bo Pelini said after Tuesday's workout as NU moves to the middle of training camp.
Jean-Baptiste, who finished last year with nine pass breakups and two interceptions, currently is with the No. 1 unit when the Huskers are in the nickel defense they often use against spread offenses.
Pelini continued: “He put the time in over the summer. I think the light's come on for him in terms of playing the position. He understands what he's doing much better, and he's playing good football.”
That's how Jean-Baptiste planned it after a spring camp chat with Pelini and position coach Terry Joseph.
“During the spring they told me this is my last go-round and I gotta start stepping up,” Jean-Baptiste said. “So I just started thinking about that more and I had to do something about it.”
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He was already part of a pass defense that allowed a nation-low 47.1 percent pass-completion rate last year. So was Mitchell, who had five pass breakups and an interception in 2012, finishing a surprising, almost-meteoric rise up the depth chart that started in last year's training camp.
Mitchell, a speedy, aggressive corner who can jump and undercut the short timing routes quarterbacks love to throw in rhythm, said he's aware of what players behind him can do to eat into his playing time. Mitchell did it, after all, to a few of them.
“Everybody's pushing me,” he said. “It doesn't matter if you're at the top of the list or the bottom of the list. We're pushing each other. I came from the bottom of the list last year to the top, so I just gotta know everybody has the ability to play out here.”
That “everybody” includes senior Mohammed Seisay (6-2, 200) and sophomores Daniel Davie (6-1, 185) and Jonathan Rose (6-1, 190). Senior Andrew Green, the most seasoned of the corners, is battling Harvey Jackson for significant playing time at safety alongside Corey Cooper. Senior nickel Ciante Evans (5-11, 190) slides out at one corner when NU plays its 4-3 base defense. Right now, Jean-Baptiste said, Mitchell is the guy opposite Evans in the No. 1 base unit.
Mitchell, physically, appears to be the outlier. The rest of Nebraska's perimeter corners are taller than 6-feet and carrying at least 25 more pounds than Mitchell does. Pelini has generally recruited taller, longer corners, or converted wide receivers, like Jean-Baptiste and former Husker Antonio Bell, who can smother receivers with their size.
But arguably Pelini's best corner at Nebraska, Alfonzo Dennard, was 5-10. And Pelini said he doesn't necessarily want a prototype at the position. He wants a playmaker who doesn't lack confidence or knowledge.
“If you understand the defense — understand how it works — and you can execute your job, there's different ways of doing it,” Pelini said. “You can't just say 'everybody has to be this guy.' Everybody has different strengths and weaknesses, and you play to them.”
Said Mitchell: “The best players who can figure out how to play in the system and fit their role are going to play. And the way the system works, anyone from any role can play in the system.”
To that end, Mitchell said Nebraska doesn't have defined boundary and field corners, as some pass defenses might. Pelini and Joseph are so creative, Mitchell said, that corners can play any number of spots or techniques.
Mitchell's a creative soul himself. Jean-Baptiste said Mitchell is the defense's finest trash-talker, skilled at getting in the heads of Husker receivers, especially senior Quincy Enunwa.
“He's one of the hype men,” Jean-Baptiste said. “We feed off of him. Even when we're stretching, he'll do it.”
If Nebraska's corners can repeat their consistent performance from 2012, Pelini can surely enjoy the banter.
“Josh is playing at a high level with a lot of confidence,” Pelini said. “We all know what Ciante can do. And I think our young corners are progressing. So it's going to be a fun group to watch.”
Video: Coach Bo Pelini
Video: Wide receiver Jamal Turner
Video: Offensive lineman Jeremiah Sirles