Nothing like a national semifinal for a first career start.
Alabama junior inside linebacker Rashaan Evans arrived in Tuscaloosa as a five-star talent in 2014, and he has been dazzling at times in a reserve role. His backup status evaporated earlier this month in the Southeastern Conference championship game, when classmate Shaun Dion Hamilton suffered a season-ending knee injury during the second quarter.
The 6-foot-3, 231-pound Evans is scheduled to line up alongside senior All-American Reuben Foster for Saturday's showdown against Washington in the Peach Bowl.
"My role now is to fill in," Evans said in a news conference last week in Tuscaloosa. "Shaun Dion was having an exceptional year, so I've got some big shoes to fill. I'm just doing whatever I need to do to get ready for the game."
The Crimson Tide worked out Tuesday inside the Georgia Dome for two hours in full pads.
Hamilton became Alabama's second defensive starter to be lost for the season, with senior safety Eddie Jackson suffering a broken leg on a punt return in the fourth quarter of the 33-14 win over Texas A&M on Oct. 22. The Crimson Tide responded from the loss of Jackson by holding their next four opponents — LSU, Mississippi State, UTC and Auburn — without a touchdown.facebook
Alabama first-year defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt said Tuesday in a media session in Atlanta that he expects the Crimson Tide to respond well this week, too.
"It's somebody else's turn, and they'll be ready to go," Pruitt said.
Evans has been ready this season when called into action, tallying 35 tackles, 2.5 sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. In Alabama's 34-6 victory over Kentucky on Oct. 1, Evans racked up five tackles, including a sack, and caused a fumble that safety Ronnie Harrison scooped up and took 55 yards for a touchdown.
That five-tackle performance set a career high that lasted one week, as Evans had seven stops in the 49-30 win at Arkansas.
"Rashaan Evans has done a really, really good job," Tide head coach Nick Saban said Monday in Atlanta. "He's been a player who's played for us a lot, and when he's played, he's played well. The additional repetitions he got back home from the seven practices we had have certainly improved his confidence in his ability to execute on a consistent basis.
"He's always been a guy who's very aggressive and fast. He's a good tackler and a good blitzer, and he's given us a little extra in pass rush at times. This is a guy who can make a real positive contribution to the team, and our expectation is that he'll play well for us."
Evans is no stranger to the big stage, having played as an outside linebacker in last season's 38-0 semifinal rout of Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl and the 45-40 defeat of Clemson in the title game. Though the Crimson Tide were shredded for 550 yards in the championship contest, Evans was a defensive bright spot, collecting the only two sacks of Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson.
That performance led many to think this could be a "breakout" season for Evans, but he has been forced to wait even longer for his starting turn, which finally has arrived.
"As a player, you've got to think of the bigger picture," Evans said. "This whole thing is a lot bigger than just you, and that's kind of the mentality I have. Your chances will come. You just have to wait your turn. You've got a lot of players here who are going through the same thing, and there are seniors like Reuben Foster, Ryan Anderson and Tim Williams who have also been through this.
"I'm embracing this moment a lot. Whenever I get out on the field, regardless of whether it's a championship or not, I always try to do my best. It will be the same in this game."
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.