2020 NFL Draft | Prospect Film Session with UCF Linebacker Nate Evans

02/14/2020
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Today, I am introducing a new film series to the Cover 1 site, where I sit down with a 2020 NFL Draft prospect and go over film with them while also asking them a few interview questions. Today’s interview subject is UCF linebacker Nate Evans. He may not be a big name in this draft, but he has the production, leadership, and the right mindset to be successful in the NFL.

To start today’s interview, I asked Evans about his leadership at UCF. He was named a team captain as just a sophomore and held that title up until the day he graduated. When I asked him what it meant to him to be a team captain, here is how he responded:

It meant a lot. That just speaks to my character and to my leadership. I just tried to do everything the right way. It just says a lot about me that my brothers and my coaches were able to tell that I was capable of being a team captain for those three years, so man it was just an honor to carry on that tradition.”

One struggle that some players could have when faced with leadership at such a young age is not having an effect on the upperclassmen. It’s hard for a sophomore to get through to someone who is older and more of a veteran of the team. When I asked him if there were any struggles with leading players older than himself, this is how he responded:

It was real easy because I’m just a guy that everyone can get along with. I’m just always laughing and trying to make jokes and in a general good mood. I had read something in the Bible that said something about laughter, I forget the specific verse and phrase, but I remember what I got from it which is just laugh and don’t dwell on things. Grow from each situation and approach others with laughter and joy. So with that, it was real easy for guys to talk to me and for me to get to really know everyone.”

My last question regarding his leadership was just what kind of leader he was for the team. He said that he “wouldn’t say [he was] too much of a vocal leader” but:

I was just the type of guy who liked, no, loved to have fun. I also liked to win. What’s better than winning games and having fun? I always let my guys know that we were going to have fun out there and we were gonna win games. I’d try to lead by example. Football is X’s and O’s and it’s all about executing and being on the same page. We just liked to have fun and execute on the field, though.”

That is just a little preface to what kind of leader Evans was on and off the field for UCF before we get to the film. After letting him showcase his leadership and character in the first part of the interview, I wanted to test him by cutting up some of his film against a talented team in Houston. Before we dove into the film, I asked him about the difficulties of preparing for a team like Houston, as they like to use so much motion in their backfield to throw off linebacker keys:

Well to start off, 11 personnel and 12 personnel is all the same. Teams just like to use it in different ways, but they run the same plays out of it. What Houston would do is they would take their tight end as a tracer and basically give the play away based on where he was lined up. When he was lined up inside the tackle and guard, you know automatically it was going to be a counter or a power coming back. If he was split out wide, it was likely to be a stretch play. With our film study, we really focused on that tight end tracer as a key and the rest was basically window dressing”

Clip 1

This first clip is a great example of what he said above. The tight end tracer is lined up between the tackle and guard, and that leads to the counter play back to the inside. I asked him, though, how did he key this play despite all the movement in the backfield with the right side crashing down and the left side pulling?

We have a thing on our defense that we call a four-way. Basically, when the offense has two receivers, a tight end, and a running back to the right of the quarterback, we would yell out ‘four-way.’ With this, do you see how I’m not too far over to the right side of the field, but I am kind of leaning that way?

I‘m leaning that way so that if the play comes this way, I’m able to get there with my speed and athleticism. On this play, I’m reading the strong side guard and he’s gonna tell me if the play is a zone or a counter coming back or whatever. The guard takes his down step and then I look at the running back as well after that.

We have to have our vision on a lot of things so I’m looking at both at once. When I see the running back leaning strong-side and see the weak-side guard pulling around, I know what’s coming from our film study. It’s is kind of easy from there because we saw it so much throughout the week. I kind of over-committed a bit, but once I read the play, I was able to shed and make a play”

I then asked him about his eyes on a play like this. He touched on it a bit in the first answer, but I really want to know his progressions as a linebacker that he has to make in a tenth of a second before committing to making a play. He described his progressions:

I’m really looking at that tracer, number 86, because I know most of the time he is lead blocking for the running back. So once I see him come down the left side of the screen, I see that back-side guard pull. Once I see those two things together, it is just read and react. I know the strong-side guard is going to climb up to get me, so I use my hands, get by him, and make a play.”

Clip 2

On this play, Evans is playing the weak-side backer spot and the offense is running a read option. He fills to the outside as the running back cuts back and stacks and sheds the tight end perfectly in the process. I asked him about his stack and shed technique and how he is able to maneuver around blockers with ease:

The game has changed. In today’s game, I’m not the typical linebacker. I’m a bit shorter and bigger than most (I played last season around 238-240 pounds). I know with my size and strength that I have an advantage. My goal is to get my hands inside and use my speed to swat them or stab them or throw them and get them out of the way so I can get up-field. For me, it is just the quickness to get inside fast, and I use that to my advantage.”

I then proceeded to ask him if he has outside contain on this play, or was this tackle for a loss more of a result of his ability to read the play and pursue to the outside instead:

With this formation, it is actually like a five-on-five. Our corner, if you look to the right of the screen, is on the outside and he is actually containing the edge. For me, I’m using my eyes and athleticism to read the play. I’m looking in the backfield and I see that guard pulling like a power play. I know on those plays that somebody is going to try and crack me and the puller is going to seal the edge. So when I see that, I just knew to stay on my side of the ball, not to over-commit, and not give up my blindside to the block so I can stay up and make a play. All that read and react comes from that pulling guard, though.”

Clip 3

I pulled this play because I wanted to see what the communication was like between him and the other interior linebacker. I was curious about what they were reading and seeing on this play that led to them having that moment of communication right before the snap.

Like I’ve said a lot here, that tight end will tell you where the play is going in 11 personnel. What Eriq, (inside linebacker No. 10), saw at first was the tight end outside the tackle and thought it was going to be a stretch play. I’m looking to him and telling him to come back inside and take this inside gap because I see the tight end is lined up more to the inside.

I knew that it was going to be a power play as well. I knew the play was coming and I was just telling him to be ready and come to this side because the ball is going inside on a power play. As an athlete, don’t take yourself out of the play if you know where it is going.

This is where play-call and instincts get jumbled a bit. I’m just talking to you now as a football player you know. If you know the play is coming, sometimes you just have to put yourself in the best position to succeed regardless of the defensive call. As long as you have that communication and trust your film study, you’ll make a play.”

Clip 4

A very difficult part of playing linebacker is being the back-side pursuit linebacker. You don’t want to over-pursue, but you also have to have the effort to get yourself into the play. I asked Evans, though, what his keys are when he is the back-side backer on a stretch play away like this and what kind of angle he looks to take in this situation:

“To be completely honest with you, it is all about effort. When that first guard got up on me, I could have given up on the play or even when that second puller got on me, too. With our film study, we knew with the pistol formation that the play was typically going to be an inside run with the tight end lined up inside like this.

They actually ran a stretch away from the tracer, which I don’t know why they did that, but yeah, I just had to fight through two guys and make a heck of a play.

Now that I’m looking at it, it could have been way worse on this play if I didn’t pursue from the back-side. I didn’t even realize I made this play, that’s crazy. That’s an effort play man (we laughed a bit about his realization that he made a really good play here).

Clip 5

My final question of the interview revolved around balancing patience and aggressiveness. When does a linebacker know when to be aggressive, like in some of the clips above, and when to be patient, like in this clip?

It’s all about situation. Let’s say the guard were to pull. Then in my mind, I would know that I have to get on my high horse and beat the lineman from point A to point B, get across his face, and get to my spot. I just trust the film.

Here I see the guard is staying and I’m looking at the running back’s feet to see inside zone. The reason I sit back is because I see that big ass . . . I’m sorry man, I just get fired up watching film, haha (I tell him it’s fine to curse watching film, it’s unnatural if you don’t actually).

Well, I see that big ass cluster and I trust the defense. I know my safety is coming down with outside contain and I trust that I can wait on the play and attack quickly on the outside. If the back wants to bounce outside, I trust that my safety will be there. It’s all about film study and trusting the defense when it comes to being patient versus being aggressive”

Final Question

So we have talked about his leadership in this article, as Evans was a three-time team captain at UCF. We talked about how smart he is on the field and how quickly he goes through his reads and understands how to play physical. This is what led to him having a 100+ tackle senior season. The last question I wanted to ask was what would an NFL team be getting if they spend a draft pick on Nate Evans in this class:

Well, to start, I’m not going to talk about the football player. I’m going to talk about the person first. If you were to ask the whole staff from head coach to linebacker coach to teachers in school what kind of person I am, everyone would say the same answer. I just like to be myself. I like to give back and I don’t know man, I’ve got a big heart.

I’ve just always had to struggle and grind to get where I am and nothing has been given to me. I don’t take anything for granted. I will use football as a platform and . . . it’s crazy man, I can’t even explain it. It is crazy that there are people out there less fortunate than you and with football I was able to play in Hawaii pursuing my NFL dream. Without football, I wouldn’t get any of that.

I’ve always wanted to play football, man, and all the work I’ve put to be where I am has made me appreciate the game. When we talk film, man, like we were doing right now, I just enjoy this game, man. When I’m on the field and I make a play, I’m like a bulldog rolling around in the dirt. You’ve probably seen that on my film. It’s just so hard to explain it, man. When I make a play, all those emotions with playing the game flow in, and man, it’s just hard to talk about. It’s just coming through my skin right now, man, talking about it!

I love to win. I’m a team player first and I’ll do anything I have to do to succeed. I’ll do all the special teams, I just want to get on the field. I just got a good heart, man, and I’ll be a good fit on your NFL team.”

 

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