Titans LB Rashaan Evans is adjusting to the speed and sometimes brutal nature of the NFL.
The Tennessee Titans’ selection of linebacker Rashaan Evans in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft made a lot of sense. It went beyond the team simply having a need at the position.
On the wall of the Titans’ auditorium at Saint Thomas Sports Park, the phrase “play fast and aggressive” is inscribed. Evans embodies that principle.
He is a linebacker with prototype size who can fly around the field. If he has the opportunity to bring down a ballcarrier, he won’t do it gently. Hard-hitting is part of what made Evans such a special player at Alabama.
One of the key markers of Evans’ career at Alabama was that it got off to a slow start. In large part due to the immense depth that Alabama had, Evans did not take over a starting role until his senior year. His NFL career has gotten off to a similar start.
Just a few days into Training Camp, Evans went down with an injury that kept him out for the remainder of the summer. He began practicing again toward the end of the preseason but did not make his NFL debut until the Titans’ Week 2 game against the Texans.
In said debut, he played just one snap, and it was on special teams. Following the game, defensive coordinator Dean Pees was not all to complimentary of Evans progression.
“He’s got to work on everything,” said Pees when asked what Evans needed to improve on. He’s just got to keep seeing game experience, seeing plays, being able to react to them, reading schemes. It’s all those things that an inside linebacker has to do.”
Following the Titans’ Week 5 loss to the Buffalo Bills, Evans was the subject of harsh criticism from Titans fans and media members. He promptly responded out of frustration with a strange Tweet declaring the inside linebacker is not his primary position.
The problem with that? The Titans drafted Evans to play inside linebacker. He is listed on the team’s roster as an inside linebacker. He is listed on the team’s unofficial depth chart as an inside linebacker.
Turning the Corner
— TURRON DAVENPORT (@TDavenport_NFL) October 18, 2018
Just when it seemed like Evans frustration was going to get in the way of his development, he turned a corner. He was one of the very few bright spots in the Titans’ 21-0 pounding at the hands of the Baltimore Ravens.
With veterans Wesley Woodyard and Will Compton sitting out due to injury, Evans saw his playing time increase drastically.
Evans finished the game with the second most total tackles on the team (7), including a tackle for loss. He played with speed and confidence, and he managed to make some nice plays in what was an otherwise disastrous day for the Titans.
Head coach Mike Vrabel was quick to praise Evans after the game. “I thought there were plays yesterday where you look, and he looked like a linebacker who was running around tracking the ball, being physical. That’s good to see. He is excited to have an opportunity. I’ve seen development, I’ve seen improvement.”
Vrabel continued by naming a few of the specific areas where he has seen Evans’ game improve. “You can see a guy that’s physical, a guy that stayed on his feet and tried to tackle. He missed a tackle here and there, but he wouldn’t have been the only one. I think that his eye control, and diagnosing the plays, and being able to read and things like that, it looked better.”
For Evans, the Titans’ game against Baltimore served as another opportunity to get his feet wet in the NFL. After missing the entire preseason, Evans is focused on continuing to develop comfort and familiarity with the pro game.
“This was like my third or fourth preseason game, said Evans after the game. “Each and every game you’re going to continue getting better and better. I’m just going to build off of this game going into London and continue to keep getting back in that film room, continue to keep getting the treatment I need so that I can play at a high level.”
One of the biggest things that Evans will have to get acclimated to in the NFL, aside from the game itself, is losing. In his four years at Alabama, that was something Evans didn’t do very often.
From 2014-2017 (Evans’ tenure with the team), Alabama boasted a record of 53-5. They participated in three out of four National Championship games during those seasons, winning two of them.
Alabama just doesn’t have 21-0 losses at home like the one the Titans suffered on Sunday. Evans admits that he will have to adjust to days like that.
“You do [have to adjust]. The good thing about this team is we’re truly a family. Everybody holds themselves accountable, there’s no finger pointing. We know exactly what we needed to do to play better. I feel like, as a whole, we just need to go back into this week and just get back to basics. Work on the little things, that way we have a better outcome this upcoming game.”
Another aspect of the pro game that Evans will have to adjust to is losing efforts despite doing your job well. Aside from not getting pressure on QB Joe Flacco, the Titans’ defense wasn’t a disaster against the Ravens. They forced a turnover and, for the most part, tackled well.
Vrabel on Rashaan Evans: “I’ve seen improvement. He’s excited to have an opportunity. I’ve seen development. I’ve seen improvement.” Not perfect, but progress.
— Travis Haney (@travhaney) October 15, 2018
Yet, the unit still allowed 21 points. Losing the game with a lopsided final score despite winning the turnover battle served as a brutal reminder to Evans about the nature of the NFL. “That’s one thing I’m quickly learning about the NFL,” he said. “Regardless of your stats or how good you do, the game is always about winning. I feel like we could’ve, as a whole, played a lot better than what we played.”
One area where Evans doesn’t have to adjust is his attitude. He was a leader both on and off the field at Alabama, and he has brought the same attitude to the Titans. Following Sunday’s game, Evans said that he and the rest of the defense made an effort to not change their body language no matter how bad things got.
“That’s something I was born with…your film is always going to show up. When you’re playing these other teams, teams think they can just roll over you in the fourth quarter, we wanted to show some film that we’re not going to back down regardless of the score. That’s just how the defense is right now, that’s our attitude.”
If Evans can continue to take strides like the big ones he took on Sunday, he will soon grow into the fierce defender that the team drafted him to be. He also seems to know, now, that inside linebacker is indeed his primary position. It’s a position he has started to play well.
Cover image AP Photo/Donn Jones.