TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — There comes a point where position changes shift from being experiments to permanent moves, and it appears Rashaan Evans has reached that point.
Evans, who spent his first two years with Alabama at outside linebacker, has worked with the inside linebackers throughout spring practice.
“It’s been great,” Evans said of the move. “I’m actually excited with the addition of my coach, (defensive coordinator) Coach (Jeremy) Pruitt. He’s been very patient with me and I’m just excited to play the position.”
The move makes sense for both Evans and Alabama. The Crimson Tide has a ton of depth at outside linebacker, but not as much on the inside. More importantly, Evans has the opportunity to fill an immediate need. With Reggie Ragland moving on, the Tide needs someone to step up in its nickel package next to Reuben Foster. So far, Evans has played inside linebacker in nickel situations while Shaun Dion Hamilton serves as the inside linebacker next to Foster in the Tide’s base defense.
Alabama has produced plenty of great inside linebackers, but none were likely as fast as Evans. His first step is lightning quick, allowing him to get around offensive tackles for sacks.
Last season, Alabama used Evans in multiple roles including as a spy against mobile quarterbacks. He finished the year with four sacks despite only playing during mostly third-down situations.
The best game of his young career came on the biggest stage as Evans had three tackles and sacked Davey O’Brien Award-winning quarterback Deshaun Watson twice in Alabama’s national championship win over Clemson.
“It was great, man,” Evans said of the title game. “Coach Saban gave me that chance, and I’m blessed to have had that chance. During that game, I felt pretty good. I was comfortable.”
Evans is hoping to carry that confidence over into this coming season where he could see an even bigger role as Alabama retools its defense.
Evans believes his speed can bring a new “edge” to the defense.
“Really (I’m) just a guy that’s willing to do anything he can for the team,” Evans said. “That’s the type of guy I am for the team. The athletic ability is there, but outside of that, I think that’s the biggest thing about me.”
Listed at 6-foot-3, 230 pounds, Evans isn’t exactly prototypical size for an inside linebacker, which raises the question of if he’s physical enough to play inside. Both Foster and Tide outside linebacker Ryan Anderson seem to think so. Anderson said Evans is a “really tough kid.”
Early this spring, Saban said Evans had “done a very good job” making the transition.
“We recruited him because he had a great fast twitch ability to rush on the edge, and he did a good job of that last year,” Saban said. “We still have every plan to use him at that, but we were looking at where can he develop as an every-down position player the best. … I’ve been impressed with what he’s been able to do so far. He is naturally instinctive at it, so it’s just going to be a matter of him learning the position and him being a linebacker, I don’t think that’s something that will be overly difficult for him to do.”