Even though Fred Evans was a seventh-round pick of the Miami Dolphins that found trouble in his rookie season and was subsequently released, he never doubted his ability to become a regular in the NFL.
"As far as believing in myself, I never believed that I wasn't … going to have another chance. I'm very thankful that the Minnesota Vikings gave me an opportunity to continue my career. But it wasn't the thing of a starting role. I was just happy to still be able to play football," Evans said Monday, the same day that the Vikings announced that Pro Bowl nose tackle Pat Williams would be sidelined two to six weeks with a fractured scapula.
That injury opened another opportunity for Evans, Williams' backup. At the tail end of his third NFL season, Evans is expected to make his first start and he's hardly intimidated.
"Pat has big shoes to fill. He's a Pro Bowler. I'm pretty sure he's going to go this year; he's having a great season," Evans said. "But at the same time, just watching film and watching him play, and getting in there to play with him sometimes on goal line and substitute for him, I feel I'm ready to step in and make a name for myself."
After 24 games as a backup, Evans' first starting opportunity will come against one of the best running backs in the NFL, Atlanta's Michael Turner. In a division-rivalry game last week, Turner rushed for 152 yards against a normally stout Tampa Bay defense and scored his franchise-record 15th rushing touchdown.
"I'm not concerned at all about them," Evans said. "I watch film, like we do every week. We have a great defensive line. I'm ready for the challenge, personally."
Evans has spent his year-plus in Minnesota learning from a Pro Bowler like Williams and was preparing for this possibility for the last month since the Vikings found out that Williams tested positive for a banned substance. Since then, however, a judge issued a restraining order against Williams' four-game suspension and Williams has played on … until now.
"The biggest thing I learned from Pat – besides the technique stuff – is more so the mental aspect. He's a great player, and he plays technique very well. But Pat has something about him that goes outside of just holding the ‘A' gap. He's a tough player, he's a big guy, and he carries himself in a certain way, and I try to portray myself the same way," Evans said.
Evans didn't get as much of an opportunity to prove himself in the second half of Sunday's game with Williams out because the Cardinals had only one more rush (seven) than the NFL-record low for a single game. Evans didn't register a tackle but had a quarterback hurry on Kurt Warner.
For the season, he has 10 tackles and 14 QB hurries and has been learning the lessons that only increased playing time can provide.
"The biggest thing that more playing time is equated to is just getting – I want to say – my swagger right. You can always go in there for a couple of plays and come out. But I've played a lot this year, and when you play that much it helps your intensity and everything," Evans said. "Football is football. But your swagger and your intensity builds the more you play, so you feel more comfortable with the more reps you get."
He should get plenty of reps in his first start Sunday against the league's top rushing offense.
Evans preparing for first start
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