TUSCALOOSA, Ala.–With Reuben Foster pursuing the National Football League, the baton that was once handed to him from ex-Alabama linebacker Reggie Ragland now goes to the new leader on defense.
Following the productivity of one Auburn (Ala.) native, senior linebacker Rashaan Evans is both excited and humbled to accept the mantle that’s been passed down through a lineage of standout players.
“I’m now one of the older guys and it’s crazy,” Evans said on Thursday. “I feel like my freshman year was just yesterday, but now I look to lead this team.”
A blockbuster name in the Crimson Tide’s 2014 signing class, Evans arrived in Tuscaloosa as a terrorizing edge rusher. After two seasons of strong play on special teams and sacking quarterbacks in a reserve spot, the 6-foot-3, 234-pounder would be moved to inside linebacker. His transition led to a breakout junior year, in which he had 53 tackles (4.5 for loss), four sacks, two pass breakups, six quarterback hurries and a forced fumble.
Despite creating havoc in Alabama’s meetings versus Kentucky, Arkansas and Mississippi State, it was the goal line stop Evans made against Florida in last year’s Southeastern Conference title game that confirmed his legitimacy. He filled in for Shaun Dion Hamilton – knee injury — and stoned Gators’ running back Jordan Scarlett inside the 1-yard line during the third quarter, aiding the Tide to a 54-16 blowout win.
Before his performance against Florida and the entire 2016 season, Evans encountered multiple issues in learning how to play inside. Getting a chance to shine on the big stage helped him understand his role.
“It really helped me play more with my eyes and trust my instincts,” he said. “The fact that I’ve played on some big stages makes playing in regular games a little bit easier.”
In his first career start versus Washington in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, quarterback Jake Browning and the Huskies offense never had a chance. Evans ate up the field, tying his career-high in tackles (seven) with a sack.
He assisted the Tide’s defense in limiting Washington to 194 total yards and seven points (44.5 ppg average) in Alabama’s 24-7 victory over the Huskies. Regardless of it falling to Clemson in the College Football Playoff national championship game, Evans made sure Tigers’ quarterback Deshaun Watson felt his presence. He set a new career-high in tackles with 11, while being a part of one of the more epic title games in collegiate history.
Evans said his focus this fall will be displaying excellence on and off the field. He credits Reuben Foster (2016 Butkus Award winner) and Reggie Ragland (2015 SEC Defensive Player of the Year) in his development.
“I’m trying to do the things they did,” Evans said. “Being able to have the experience, play on a big stage and have good mentors like Reggie and Reuben helps me be ready to lead when playoff time comes around again.”
It appears that learning from Foster and taking coaching from defensive coordinator/inside linebackers coach Jeremy Pruitt has paid off for Evans. With practice, he’s become much stronger and faster.
“I’m a lot more comfortable now,” he said.
Sharing in Evans’ situation of dissecting a new role is redshirt freshman Ben Davis.
Davis, a five-star recruit and the nation’s No. 1 inside linebacker, has been spotted working outside in spring practice. Moving to a different role is hard, but if there is one guy who can give advice– it would be Evans.
He believes Davis will excel as a pass rusher.
“I would tell him to embrace it,” Evans said. “All it does is get you better. Once he gets to the point in his career where he’s about to leave, NFL scouts will look at that. It adds more to his versatility if he can do both.”
Was it a national championship season for the 2013 class a year ago? No, but the group showed character, leadership and guided the Crimson Tide to its third straight CFP appearance. Now, the star shines on the 2014 group and with Evans commanding the troops, next season should be nothing short of entertaining. He’s totaled 77 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, nine sacks and 12 quarterback pressures through 42 games.