Rookie safeties ready for Manning

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Jaguars rookie safeties Josh Evans and Johnathan Cyprien grew up watching Peyton Manning shred NFL defenses.

On Sunday they’ll try to stop him from doing it their defense.

In preparing to play against Manning and the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Evans and Cyprien were struck by the situation. They’ve admired Manning for more than half their lives and now they’re going to be on the same field with him.

Playing against him. Trying to confuse him. Hoping to pick off one of his passes.

"I wouldn’t say it’s weird, but it is amazing to grow up watching him," Evans said. "I think he got drafted when I was like 9 or something, so now I’m going to play against him is kind of crazy."

Cyprien said he had a similar feeling two weeks ago when the Jaguars played host to the Indianapolis Colts and he had to cover Reggie Wayne, a player he watched at Miami while growing up in North Miami Beach, Fla.

But being on the same field as Manning is another level.

"There’s been a couple players that I felt weird about like that," Cyprien said. "Reggie Wayne, growing up and watching him play and then I played versus him. I went through the weird process. It’ll probably be a different type of weird when I see [Manning]. But it is what it is and it’ll be time to play football."

Don’t get the idea that Evans and Cyprien are starstruck. They are most certainly not. They’re respectful of Manning and his ability, but they’re not approaching Sunday’s game any differently than they did the St. Louis game last Sunday. Practice, meetings, film study.

"We’re going against a lot of veteran guys who are pretty crafty and know what they’re doing, as you can see leading the league in passing," said Evans, who has 15 tackles and one pass breakup. "So now it’s just going out there and figuring out a way how we can stop them."

That’s not going to be easy. Manning has thrown 20 touchdown passes and only one interception, the Broncos are averaging nearly 50 points per game, and they’ve won 16 regular-season games in a row, including all five games this season by an average of 18.2 points.

Plus, don’t you think Manning is eager to go after a pair of rookie safeties?

"Maybe he is," said Cyprien, the Jaguars’ second-round pick last April. “He’s a competitor and he probably has that mindset, but me and Josh have a mindset as far as going into the game, too. If that’s the case I hope we have a lot of opportunities to make some plays."

Defensive coordinator Bob Babich admits it’s not an ideal situation to have two rookies on the back end of the defense in a game against Manning. He’s not going to overload Evans and Cyprien with information or have them show several coverages before the snap in an attempt to confuse Manning. That would more than likely end up confusing them more.

"The thing with Peyton is he’s so smart," Babich said. "Obviously he does a great job of finding out exactly how a defense wants to attack him, so you want to try to do things to try to stop that a little bit with maybe some disguises or blitzes or whatever. The younger you are obviously the tougher it becomes but our guys, what we’re going to do is we’re going to go out, use our fundamentals, and see where it takes us."

Evans, the team’s sixth-round pick, and Cyprien were expected to eventually become the starting tandem and backbone of the secondary. Cyprien was immediately inserted into the starting lineup in training camp and has responded with 35 tackles, a sack and two forced fumbles. Evans played just four snaps combined in the first two games but hasn’t missed one since Dwight Lowery suffered a concussion against Seattle.

He’s not coming out either. The team put Lowery on injured reserve on Tuesday and coach Gus Bradley said Wednesday the plan is to cut Lowery once he has been declared healthy.

So it’s Evans and Cyprien for the rest of this season -- and beyond.

"We’ve been very pleased with their development," Babich said. "They’re young guys that are extremely athletic and they’re playing extremely hard. They’re making mistakes, don’t get me wrong, but at the same time they’re making plays so the more they play the better they’re going to get."