TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- By any statistical measurement, Alabama's signing class this year was a success. The number of ESPN 300 members who faxed in their paperwork was staggering. Thirteen signees were ranked in the top 10 nationally at their positions.
The No. 1 class ranking was just a distinction. Simply hauling in top recruits won't get a team too far. UA coach Nick Saban knows this well. As he and his staff were building the class, they had goals in mind. The road map was simple.
"We didn’t change the recruiting strategy," Saban said. "We define the kind of players that we want, and they have critical factors at each position. I think we added fast-twitch, pass-rushing athletic guys to the defensive line category as being a higher priority because of spread offenses, more spread offenses, more athletic quarterbacks -- those types of things, the same things that NFL teams are talking about when they play against RG3 or [Colin] Kaepernick or Russell Wilson from Seattle, who are athletic and run the ball. We have to be able to adapt to that kind of athleticism and that means we have to be more athletic to do that."
In other words, Saban is gearing up for three more years of Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M. The Aggies were the only team to beat Alabama in 2012, and after watching the future Heisman Trophy winner carve up his defense, Saban is ready to react.
Alabama signed some of the country's premier pass-rushers Wednesday. Two of the top five defensive ends in the country -- Jonathan Allen and Tim Williams -- will be wearing crimson when they finish high school. Throw in No. 1 inside linebacker Reuben Foster and No. 4 defensive tackle Dee Liner, and Saban has a few pieces to the puzzle.
Allen, the No. 3 defensive end in the ESPN 150, has flown under the radar since committing to Alabama in May 2012. But the big 6-foot-3, 245-pound pass-rusher is highly regarded for a reason. He'll likely play Jack linebacker at Alabama, using what scouts describe as "very nice first-step quickness" and "the tools to be a dangerous edge-rusher."
Williams is a similar type of hybrid defensive end/linebacker. He told ESPN during his recruitment that he'd likely play Sam linebacker at the next level, a position now held by redshirt junior Adrian Hubbard. Like Hubbard, who has developed into a possible NFL draft pick, Williams is tall and lanky with plenty of room on his frame to add weight. The 6-foot-4, 230-pound Louisiana native is raw physically, but he possesses the same type of athleticism as Hubbard.
"While not a physically imposing prospect, Williams does possess very good playing strength and that should only improve with continued physical development," ESPN national recruiting analyst Craig Haubert said of the four-star defensive end. "He is a physical and very active defender who can develop into not only a pass-rushing threat, but also a tough run defender."
But Saban wasn't finished with the front seven. Cornerback, a maligned unit for parts of the 2012 season, needed fixing. So Alabama signed four prospects capable of playing the position: Maurice Smith, Anthony Averett, Eddie Jackson and Jonathan Cook.
"I think that was one of the primary objectives of this recruiting class was to satisfy some of the needs we had at corner," Saban said. "All four DBs that we recruited are guys that we feel like can play corner. They may be able to play safety, but we feel like they can play corner and we’re certainly going to try to develop some of those guys to see if they can do that, and we feel like each one of them have the ability to do it.
Saban continued, explaining his thought process in recruiting the class: "We tried to get little bigger guys maybe that had a little more size potential that can play a little more physical, because we see more and more big receivers. We’ll see how these guys develop, but we certainly liked what we saw in these guys."
He was quick to point out that there won't be a seniority system in place, either. Just as freshman Geno Smith won the job at nickelback late in the year, if you're good enough you'll play.
"We’re certainly hopeful that they turn out to be all that they can be, because there’s another opportunity there for some of these guys maybe to contribute to next year’s team," he explained. "We’ve had freshmen play here in the secondary before and do a good job, and maybe some of these guys can do the same thing."