By Michael Casagrande
TUSCALOOSA - For the first time in three years, Alabama fell short of its recent lofty recruiting standards.
The Rivals.com recruiting service that crowned the Crimson Tide the previous two years had it fifth after a rather uneventful national signing day that was over by midmorning. The other major service, Scout.com had Alabama fourth, but none of that made a difference to coach Nick Saban.
The fruit of the recruiting process takes two years before evaluations are valid, he said.
"If we went out and bought a hunting dog and it was a puppy, we would buy it based on its potential or lineage in terms of breeding," Saban said. "We would probably know when that dog grew up whether or not it was a good hunting dog. We'd never know until we put them out in the field and go hunting.
"Recruiting is not an exact science, and really, it takes about two years to really evaluate whether you had a good recruiting class or not."
That said, Saban was satisfied with the group of 26 who turned commitments into signed scholarship papers Wednesday.
It was all about satisfying needs Saban said, and with six defensive backs, four linebackers and four defensive linemen, one side of the ball picked up the depth and possibly a few impact players.
The only intrigue came with the Wednesday decisions of two offensive lineman, Shon Coleman and James Stone. Both went to Alabama rivals.
Coleman, an early commitment to Auburn, recently visited Tuscaloosa among others before signing with the Tigers on Wednesday. Stone reached for the Tennessee hat live on ESPNU on Wednesday morning, leaving the Crimson Tide cap on the table and effectively ending any hopes of a 27th signee before lunch.
"Because of the situation, we probably had to recruit more by need in this recruiting class than ever before," Saban said. "And offensive line was not one of the significant needs relative to numbers or quality of the players we have in the program."
It was a day of no surprises - no big pickups or devastating defections. All 26 who said they'd be with Alabama stuck with the Tide in the final hours that have been known to see strange reversals.
The change of heart for five-star defensive back Keenan Allen was known early in the week. Committed to the Tide for months, the highly touted prospect ended up heading to Cal. Everything changed when Allen's half-brother and quarterback Zach Maynard got a release from his scholarship at Buffalo. Suddenly, he became part of a package deal.
"Then it becomes a matter of whether we can take both or not," Saban said. "And I think some people that could obviously had a big advantage. We were not in a position to do that because we were full."
Of the six defensive backs who signed with the Tide, Millbrook's DeMarcus Milliner is the headliner. Ranked among the top two cornerbacks in the nation, Milliner is one of the 11 already at Alabama. And he's ready to play.
By late August, he's hoping to see his name "at the very top" of the depth chart after losing starting cornerbacks Javier Arenas and Kareem Jackson to the pros.
"That will be a great thing to see and be a part of, with all the great players out there," Milliner said Wednesday. "We're just going to try and play with each other and do what we do best, which is play football."
Quarterback Phillip Sims, ranked among the top two at his position, also met with reporters in Tuscaloosa as another early enrollee who didn't have a signing party at his high school. Being a college student a semester early meant missing the wall-to-wall television coverage that included several of his highlights.
"I got a lot of text messages, but I've been in class all day," he said. "When I got out of class, I grabbed a quick bite to eat, hit a workout. ... It's flattering, to be on all these highlights and stuff like that, but when you put in all this work that athletes do, you deserve it."