TUSCALOOSA, Ala.—Nick Saban doesn’t deal in hyperbole much, if at all. The well-spoken coach chooses his words carefully, especially when it comes to not talking someone up too much, lest they get a big head and get complacent.
So you couldn’t help but take notice when Saban called 5-star outside linebacker Rashaan Evans “exactly what we're looking for” in an edge-rusher.
Signing Evans, the Auburn, Ala., native from Auburn High School, away from Auburn University was easily the biggest news of the day for Alabama, which had all of its other signees committed before the Feb. 5 national signing day.
Evans was considered a heavy Auburn favorite by most, given his local ties and the fact that both of his parents attended the school.
So it was a shock when he pulled out the Alabama hat.
“In my career, I don’t think I’ve ever been more stunned by a commitment than Rashaan Evans,” said JC Shurburtt, a national recruiting expert for 247Sports.
And Evans, to steal a line from Saban, might be exactly what Alabama needs right now.
In its 2013 and previous makeups, Alabama was built to stop power-run teams like LSU and Georgia. The Crimson Tide stocked up on hulking defensive linemen and linebackers who sacrificed speed for size.
It paid dividends, certainly, as Alabama rode this strategy to three BCS National Championships in four years. Alabama was able to grind teams to a pulp and squeeze the life out of them and did so with pretty amazing efficiency.
But teams are adapting, and Alabama might have fallen a step behind.
The Tide were stunned by Texas A&M at home in 2012, its hurry-up and spread style confounding Alabama defenders who were used to being able to substitute at will and play mostly north and south.
In 2013, it came full circle.
Alabama escaped a shootout at A&M in the early part of 2013, a game that saw nearly 1,200 yards of total offense. Later in the season, Auburn racked up nearly 300 yards rushing in its hurry-up system. And in the Sugar Bowl, Oklahoma put up 429 yards of total offense with an uptempo style en route to a postseason upset.
So Saban made it a point to recruit smaller but faster defensive linemen and linebackers.
“One of the goals we have was to get a little more fast-twitch, quicker body type guys to play on the edges for us,” Saban said. “We're playing against a lot more spread. I feel between the outside backer types we got as well as some of the more athletic kind of defensive ends we got that maybe we satisfied that need as well.”
And Evans fits the mold to a T.
At 6’3”, 220 pounds, he has the size to go toe-to-toe with SEC running backs and offensive linemen but still possesses the quickness to rush the quarterback and contain him in space.
You could argue that Auburn shouldn’t have beaten Alabama, that a missed field goal returned for a touchdown was a once-in-a-lifetime play that just so happened to end a dynasty.
But the Tigers had to be in a position to return the field goal in the first place.
They did that by exploiting personnel and scheme mismatches Alabama had. Landing Evans helps Alabama in that regard, and he could be a major player in the 2014 edition of the Iron Bowl in Tuscaloosa,. Ala.
National signing day may just be the beginning of Rashaan Evans giving Auburn fans and coaches headaches.