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VOL. 42 | NO. 48 | Friday, November 30, 2018

Longer college season helps first-year Titans avoid ‘rookie wall’

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A long season is nothing new for linebacker Rashaan Evans, who played a 15-game slate at Alabama last year that included 12 regular-season games, SEC championship, national semifinal and national title game.

-- Ryan Kang Via Ap

This used to be the time of year when NFL teams would start having concerns about their first-year players hitting the so-called “rookie wall.”

For those who aren’t familiar with the term, the rookie wall is a mental and physical hurdle experienced by first-year players unaccustomed to the long NFL season. With a full NFL season, plus four preseason games, that means 20 football games before the postseason even begins, compared to 12 for college.

Back in the day, college seasons typically were 11 games plus – maybe – a bowl game. But in 2006, a 12th regular season game was added to the college schedule, and then, of course, conference championship games pushed the number of games to 13 for a select few. A bowl game gave some college squads a 14th game.

Now that the college football playoff has come into existence, that adds a 15th game for the two elite teams who make the title game.

And, even for the also-rans, 12 regular season games plus a bowl game – 78 of the 128 FBS schools now go bowling each year – means a 13-game season.

All the above, Titans coach Mike Vrabel theorizes, has helped to obliterate the concerns about a rookie wall.

“A lot of these teams that play 15 games and go to the national championship, the NFL drafts a lot of these players from Clemson, Ohio State and Alabama. They’re still playing,” Vrabel says. “They have games this week and then championship games and then bowl games. That’s starting to get a little bit closer and closer together from – this isn’t the Ivy League where they play eight games and call it a season.”

Ivy League schools actually play 10-game schedules, but you get the point.

One Titans rookie who knows all about the expanded college schedule and how to prepare his body for the long haul is first-round linebacker Rashaan Evans, who had many extra games come his way as a member of the Alabama Crimson Tide.

“To be honest with you, I don’t even really know what that is,” Evans says. “The rookie wall, or whatever they call it, I’m not even really worried about that. I’m used to playing longer seasons than most people do anyway, because of college.

“For me, it’s kind of just normal.”

Evans, who in the old days would be playing all those extra games in the month of December, says he actually feels fresher and readier to go because he was held out of preseason and limited in the early part of the regular season while recovering from a hamstring injury.

“If anything, I feel like I’ve got a little bit of extra wind in me, because I was able to rest more than most people. Right now, I’m feeling pretty good,” he says.

Evans admits that playing at a powerhouse school like Alabama, where conference title games and playoffs are the norm, helped him know how to prepare for how life would be once he got to the next level.

“It helps you mentally to know how not to burn yourself out, being able to do the little things constantly to keep yourself healthy and just making sure you get the proper sleep and doing those little things, I think that helps in the long run,” Evans explains.

“I think a lot of guys, they do the right things in the beginning and then they stop, and I guess that’s how you ‘hit the rookie wall.’

“So for me, I’m just going to keep doing what I was doing at the beginning of the season now so that way I’m able to go out there and perform.”

But what about those rookies who played at schools where a bowl game is no sure thing.

It turns out they’re not worried about it that much either.

Rookie outside linebacker Sharif Finch, who played in three bowl games for Temple during his four-year run, says beating the rookie wall is about taking care of your body.

“I hear the rookie wall is that period where in college you only play like 12 games, but in the league you’ve got to play 16 games, plus four preseasons games. So now would be like at the end of the college season,” he says.

“But you just have to maintain your health and keep your body in good shape. You have to keep your weight up, stay strong, stay in the weight room and stay resilient throughout the season.”

For rookie receiver Cameron Batson, who got into two bowl games in four years at Texas Tech, the biggest hurdle to overcoming the rookie wall is to be mentally prepared for it.

“I feel like that’s just a mental thing. Even back in high school, you’d be playing in the playoffs about this time of year, or getting prepared in college for bowl season,” he explains.

“So you just have to come out and prepare every day and get ready for the next opponent. I just keep my normal routine. Nothing changes.

“(My teammates) all just said it was a mental thing. Some guys let it get to them and some guys don’t. So I’m really not worried about that. We don’t even need to be having a conversation about a rookie wall.”

Terry McCormick covers the Titans for TitanInsider.com

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