Tennessee Titans linebacker Rashaan Evans had a rookie season that was far from conventional. Yet, that unusualness helped propel him to being a core member of the Titans’ front seven.
Just a few days into 2018 Training Camp, Evans was sidelined with an injury. He would miss the remainder of camp practices, the preseason, and the Titans’ first regular season game.
That missed time was, as Evans admitted, a major setback. “When I first began, it was really my injury,” Evans said when asked what was difficult about transitioning to the NFL a rookie. “It hindered me from doing all of those things.”
By season’s end, though, Evans was a force to be reckoned with. He looked comfortable, teaming with Jayon Brown to form a very steady duo of inside linebackers for the Titans.
As Evans’ rookie season progressed, the Titans continually asked him to do more. Against the Jaguars in Week 14, he played at least four different positions, including edge rusher, traditional 4-3 mike linebacker, 3-technique, and 3-4 inside linebacker.
“Once I got comfortable with it,” Evans said, “I was able to do multiple positions like that, and I love it, I have fun with it. For me to do whatever I can to help the team, that’s what it’s about.”
Working in Evans’ favor heading into 2019 is the fact that Titans defensive coordinator Dean Pees, who some speculated might retire following a midseason health scare, is set to return for another year.
The comfort that Evans gained by the end of his rookie season will only continue to grow, thanks to the system familiarity he will have.
“It helps a lot,” Evans said of Pees’ return. “He’s a guy that’s been in the league longer than I’ve probably been alive. Just to have that type of wisdom around you and for him to teach me as much as he can about the game, I think that’s something that is very, very rare.
“Not a lot of guys get that type of wisdom around them. For me, I’m just going to be like a sponge and soak in as much information as I can from him while he’s still here.”
Patience is a virtue.
While Evans finished his rookie season very strongly, it didn’t get off to such a great start. When he did return from his injury, he looked, at times, to be overmatched. His play recognition was poor.
Eventually, though, everything clicked for Evans. The patience he learned during that difficult handful of games at the beginning of the season is something he plans to take with him into year two.
Rashaan Evans referred to these as his “smart glasses.” pic.twitter.com/muENaUokpu
— Luke Worsham (@luke_worsham) May 1, 2019
“The number one thing I got from my rookie season,” Evans said, “was to be more patient. This thing is a marathon, man. You can’t rush certain things, especially when it comes to the learning process. Even now, the fact that I have a good grasp of the playbook and I can go out and play without any thinking, there’s still more that I could learn about the game itself.
“That’s the reason why I have so many different outlets. I have guys from different schools, guys from different levels of play that they played on, and these coaches that come here with so much wisdom, like Coach Pees. To have that around me helps me out even more.”
“Good to great.”
Evans, the Titans’ first-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, figures to be a major part of the Titans’ plans on defense this upcoming season. If the Titans are truly able to go from “good to great” as head coach Mike Vrabel wants them to, a further improved Evans could be a big reason behind that growth.
Individually, Evans knows that he needs to take the various elements of his game from good to great in order to help the team as a whole.
Asked how he can further improve his game heading into year two, Evans said, “Just making sure the things that I was doing good, whether it was playing against the run good or pass rushing, all those different things…Now it’s time to take those things to the next level and make those things great.”
With a full season under his belt and a clean bill of health, Evans should be able to hit the ground running in 2019. That’s a highly positive development for the Titans.
Cover image: Christopher Hanewinckel/USA Today