TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Rashaan Evans tore off the edge as if shot out of a cannon, his sights set on Florida Atlantic quarterback Greg Hankerson. Right tackle Eric Minemyer just watched as Evans sprinted past him.
Evans left his feet, almost going horizontal, as Hankerson fell to the ground. Evans, the freshman from Auburn, Alabama, stood up and celebrated his first of likely many sacks.
But as he came to the sideline, defensive coordinator Kirby Smart put his arm around Evans’ shoulder and pointed up at one of the four replay screens in Bryant-Denny Stadium. Evans hadn’t wrapped up in his tackle, and while that may work against FAU, it won’t against shiftier quarterbacks like Auburn’s Nick Marshall.
“He did a great job on the rush, but he didn’t wrap the quarterback up,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said Wednesday. “Even though the guy’s knee happened to be down on that play, there may be a play some day when you don’t wrap the guy up where maybe he’s not down.
“We were just trying to teach him that it was a great rush, he did a great job, but you have to wrap up the quarterback.
Evans, a 5-star linebacker whose recruitment between Alabama and Auburn came right down to the wire and was the Crimson Tide’s biggest steal in the 2014 recruiting cycle, is still learning as a freshman who’s only been on campus since May. But, even on a team loaded with pass-rushers, his time could be coming sooner rather than later.
It’s not often that Alabama’s players heap extravagant praise on their teammates. Especially when it’s a freshman—where half the battle is keeping their egos under control since most of them were so highly rated out of high school.
So reporters perked up when junior linebacker Reggie Ragland offered up this assessment of Evans on Monday:
“Rashaan is a freak,” Ragland said, matter-of-factly. “And when you’re a freak, you deserve to be on the field. He’s putting that time in to be that player that coach Saban and coach Smart and (outside linebackers) coach (Lance) Thompson want him to be.”
Evans didn’t wait long to announce himself to the college football world.
He was in on special teams for the opening kickoff against West Virginia. He burst down the field and was the first one to the ball, making Alabama’s first tackle of the 2014 season.
Evans’ size and strength was evident from the get-go.
At early fall practices, the 6’3”, 225-pound Evans was very noticeable. It was going to be hard to keep him off the field.
The Crimson Tide, though, don’t lack for edge-rushers.
Denzel Devall and Xzavier Dickson are the veterans at outside linebacker, and while their production hasn’t exactly been eye-popping, they know the defense inside and out, which is just as, if not more, important to Saban.
Ryan Anderson, a redshirt sophomore, has seen more playing time this season. And sophomore Tim Williams has all the talent in the world but has been in Saban’s doghouse after being suspended for most of fall camp.
In Evans, Alabama now has an explosive option that it can presumably use in its rotation. And he already has his first sack under his belt.
“Oh, that’s big for confidence,” sophomore defensive lineman Jonathan Allen said. “I feel like the first sack is probably the hardest one to get. So now he knows what it feels like, he’s been there, so he knows what he has to do to get there. I really think it’s good for his confidence and I feel like he can really help us out on the defense.”
Because the referee had a bad angle on the play, he didn’t see Hankerson’s knee initially touch the ground and didn’t blow his whistle. Evans, though, got up to celebrate while Hankerson got up and started running again, and Williams brought the quarterback down, this time in view of the official.
The ability is clearly there. And while Evans is impressing his coaches and teammates, he’s still learning what it takes to play at this level.
“Yeah, Coach Kirby wasn’t too happy about that,” Allen said. “We just try to learn to let our play do the talking. You don’t want to bring any unwanted or any negative attention. It’s really a team thing.
“It’s just a learning experience.”
Marc Torrence is the Alabama lead writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats come from CFBStats. All recruiting information comes from 247Sports.
Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.