MOBILE, Ala. — Texas A&M’s John Chavis has coached his share of players who have gone on to become NFL greats, and the defensive coordinator known as “Chief” believes Justin Evans could be the next one.
“I try to avoid comparisons, because everyone has their strengths and has their weaknesses,” Chavis told SECcountry.com Wednesday night. “Jamal Adams at LSU is another young man I got to coach for a year at LSU, he is very good, and then you take a guy like Eric Berry, maybe the most complete player I’ve ever been around.
“But Justin is a great player and he has that ceiling. He’s a team leader with all the qualities.”
Evans, known to Aggies’ fans as “The Eraser,” is determined to establish himself as the best safety at Ladd Stadium during Senior Bowl week activities leading up to the actual all-star game at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday (TV: NFL Network).
“I’m looking to prove every aspect of my game this week, the coverages, playing the ball in the air and tackling,” Evans said. “The question is if I’m the best safety here, and that’s what I’m trying to prove, and that’s what I want them to say when I leave here on Saturday.”
Evans was considered one of the top 20 NFL prospects heading into this season, according to an NFL.com article.
“This kid jumps off the tape, (and) he’s a better player than (2016 first-round pick) Karl Joseph,” an NFL executive told NFL.com. “He’s a ferocious hitter and he can cover a lot of ground. He will be a top-20 pick this spring.”
There was little reason to doubt that analysis in October, when the normally reserved Chavis said Evans might be as good as any safety he’s ever coached.
“I don’t say things to be nice,” Chavis said at the time. “I say things to be true.”
But then the season took a truly harsh turn for the Aggies, who lost five of their final seven games after a 6-0 start lifted them into the top 10.
It all turned in the third quarter of Texas A&M’s seventh game of the season, at Alabama, a contest the Aggies led 14-13 halfway through the third quarter.
“We knew we were capable of winning that game, but it didn’t play out for us,” Evans said at the Senior Bowl media night event. “What if we had won? Who knows? We were thinking we could compete for a title.”
Instead, Evans and the Aggies’ defense found themselves playing more snaps than any other unit in the country — not that the 6-foot, 193-pounder from Wiggins, Miss., took note.
“Once you get into third and fourth quarter, you don’t even know how many plays it’s been,” Evans said. “It’s just going to the next one and doing what you’ve got to do.”
Evans said playing for a coach like Chavis keeps every player on defense inspired regardless of circumstances.
“Coach Chavis came in the same spring when I came in, and he’s a great coach,” said Evans, who transferred to Texas A&M from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. “Coach Chavis will teach you all the ins and outs, and He’s real emotional about what he does. He has passion for the game that you feed off.”
Evans said he hears the grumblings about his head coach, Kevin Sumlin, but feels they come from people who are not in the know.
“People are looking in from the outside, and they don’t know what’s going on inside,” Evans said. “We know as a team what we’re trying to do and what Coach Sumlin is doing, and he’s a great coach.
“It may look like he’s on the hot seat, but he’s not out there playing, we are. We lost those games, not him.”
Evans said Texas A&M’s first-half success is proof the Aggies have good coaching leadership, and it’s just a matter of the team getting the breaks and finishing the season.
“We started off on fire, we were clicking in all areas,” Evans said. “We hit a stump in the road and we couldn’t pick it back up like we wanted to. We kept working hard, it just didn’t work out.”
Evans will wear Texas A&M’s maroon and white one final time on Saturday, looking to showcase his skills and attain the lofty draft projections he was considered before at the start of the season.
“Justin is a student of the game, and I think he’s only going to get better and better, and he’s pretty doggone good right now in my opinion,” Chavis said. “He’s the kind of guy you want on your team, because he’s tough, and it never gets too tough for him.”