NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- For much of his rookie season, Rashaan Evans wasn't himself.
A severe hamstring injury kept the Tennessee Titans linebacker sidelined for most of training camp last year. Even after he returned to the field, the injury robbed Evans for part of the season of his trademark speed to the ball carrier that he exhibited as a standout at Alabama.
He was injured while covering a tight end during the first week of training camp. The Titans were tight-lipped about the extent of Evans' hamstring injury as they slowly brought along their first-round pick, whom they traded up three spots to take last April. Evans was not activated until the second game of the season. Although he was able to learn the defense in the classroom, the rookie was hindered by not getting game reps.
"You can sit in front of a whiteboard and learn a lot of things, but it's a different type of thing when you are actually in the game," Evans said. "It took me a while to get on the field to experience the speed and where I fit in certain gaps. That's what I was missing from camp with my injury."
Evans had never dealt with a hamstring injury, and the biggest hurdle was learning to trust that he was fully recovered. Evans didn't want to further postpone realizing his NFL dream, so he took the field even though he wasn't sure if he would re-injure the hamstring. He ended up injuring the other hamstring in Week 3 against Jacksonville. The experience was a valuable lesson, teaching him how to be in better tune with his body.
"I didn't care how bad it hurt me, I wanted to get out there and play," Evans said. "That was a lifelong dream. A lot of people don't know that I pulled both hamstrings. I look back on it and don't regret it at all. It taught me how to play hurt.
"The fact that I have the experience and know how to operate and go about practice -- I know my limits and how to do certain things. I know my body a lot better now and how it reacts to certain things. Little stuff, like how much water I need to drink and even changing my diet. It'll be easier for me."
The first time Evans felt back to normal last season was in Week 6 during his seven-tackle performance against the Baltimore Ravens. His signature play of the season came in Week 14 when he shot into the backfield to tackle Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette on a fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line. That play provided a glimpse of what's to come for Evans.
After finishing his rookie season with 53 tackles, two tackles for loss, and a QB hit, Evans is poised to break out in his second year in the league. His sideline-to-sideline speed makes him a key defender against the run. The Titans would also like to showcase Evans' edge-rushing ability. His best pass-rushing tool is a spin move that he says comes naturally to him. Don't be surprised to see him use a fake spin move as a counter. Head coach Mike Vrabel is quick to mention Evans when he discusses players on the roster who will get to rush the quarterback. That's music to Evans' ears.
"I am excited about that," Evans said. "It's how I started my career -- pass rushing. It's funny how it panned out. The majority of my high school career I played quarterback. I switched to defense and started rushing the passer towards the end of my career in high school. Then I did it more when I got to college and I started to fall more in love with it."