By (Matthew Speakman)

ATLANTA- Linebackers Shaun Dion Hamilton and Rashaan Evans have been connected for a long time. Playing on the same AAU basketball team in elementary school, the two had experience being teammates before arriving at Alabama.

So, when Hamilton went down with an ACL tear, he knew he had to support his longtime friend who would replace him at middle linebacker.

“Anything I can help him with or anything my teammates need, I’ll do,” Hamilton said. “It is going to be important having a coach off of the field. Anything I see on the sidelines, I know I’m gonna tell those guys.”

Alabama’s game against Washington will be Evans’ first start on the season. Evans has taken on more responsibility since the SEC Championship, but he feels like his transition to being a starter has gone smoothly.

“It’s been going just as well as I thought i would,” Evans said. “My job is, like I said, to fill in and just kind of be that guy that can take that role and be able to do things that [Hamilton] could do, if not more.”

Hamilton and Evans battled during the spring and fall for the same linebacker position. Reuben Foster stepped into Reggie Ragland’s role, and the team needed someone to fill Foster’s previous position. When Evans went down with a groin injury early in the fall, Hamilton secured his role as the starter.

Hamilton said the competition between him and Evans helped both of them improve.

“Competing just brings out the best in us,” Hamilton said. “I did my thing early on in the season, and when he got his chance, he did his thing. Now, It’s on him. I know he’s going to take full advantage of it.”

Even though it is his first start, Evans has game experience at middle linebacker. He played the second half of the SEC Championship, filling in for Hamilton when he went down. In that game, he made a big tackle on a goal line stand for Alabama in the third quarter. He also spent time filling in for Foster in multiple games where Foster battled injuries.

“It’s not really his first go-around,” said cornerback Anthony Averett. “He hasn’t started, but he definitely has played. I’m pretty confident in him, especially when he makes the calls.”

For most of his career, Evans spent his time as a pass rusher. After having arguably the best game of his career against Clemson (three tackles and two sacks), he saw his role change once spring practice rolled around. He made the position change from outside to inside linebacker.

“Overall, it’s been a good transition for me,” Evans said. “Just being able to go from outside to inside. I can do a lot more things now that I’m inside.”

Evans’ move to inside linebacker gives Alabama versatility at the position. Having already showcased his pass-rushing ability, he worked on being an every-down player who can stop the run.

Washington will try to spread out the field and find mismatches in the Alabama defense. One thing his teammates talked about when discussing Evans was his speed. Averett said Evans’ ability to fly to the ball and cover receivers will help Alabama against the Huskies.

“He’s definitely one of the quicker guys on our team especially on the defense and in the front seven,” Averett said. “He’s fast. He can cover. He can cover the good tight ends, and some of these receivers he can probably cover because he is fast.”

Evans will try to give Alabama a different look from Hamilton when he steps in. For Hamilton, he’s excited to watch his friend get the chance to make plays for the Crimson Tide. Hamilton expects big things from Evans.

“I can’t wait to see him play,” Hamilton said. “Rashaan [Evans] is a freak of nature. Expect big plays out of him come Saturday.”

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Source:: The Crimson White Sports