ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – When Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning goes through his pre-snap reads on the defense in front of him, he’s often looking to locate the middle linebacker. And he’s often looking at the safeties.
So when Manning looks at the Jacksonville Jaguars' safeties in front of him Sunday, to see what they might be up to, he will see two rookies with all of 10 games’ worth of experience.
The Jaguars selected Johnathan Cyprien out of Florida International with the 33rd pick in this year's draft, and moved him into the starting lineup almost as soon as training camp began. At strong safety, Cyprien is second on the team with 36 tackles, has forced two fumbles to go with one sack and has played every defensive snap over the first five games.
Josh Evans, a sixth-round pick out of Florida last April, didn’t get in the lineup until Dwight Lowery suffered a concussion against the Seahawks in Week 3. Evans had played just four snaps on defense in the team’s first two games.
The issue for the Jaguars, beyond Manning's otherworldly start, will be to decide how much to ask of the two young safeties. Many defenses spend a lot of time moving in and out of different sets before the snap to try to keep Manning from seeing what the coverage is, trying to disguise exactly where people will be at the snap.
But to do that, the safeties can’t miss an assignment or fail to get in the right look before the snap or else Manning will quickly find the mistake. Defensive coordinators often say that as much as you don’t want to give Manning a clear look at your defensive intentions, to try to do too much is often to invite missed assignments and blown coverages.
So with two rookies on the back end of the defense, the Jaguars figure to play it pretty simple and hope they generate enough rush on Manning without getting too exotic in their coverages. For his part, Manning has been patient with what defenses have offered him thus far, with every team intent on taking away the deep ball. As a result, he has had 18, 18, 15 and 18 completions of 10 or fewer yards in the last four games, including last week’s win in Dallas.
Manning has been more than willing to flood the short and intermediate areas with passes, with defenses often moving linebackers away from the line of scrimmage at the snap and dropping one, or both, safeties well down the field.
All in all, it figures to make for a steep learning curve for the Jaguars' youngsters.