If anybody has a right to be overcome by distractions this Saturday in the Iron Bowl, it would be Alabama inside linebacker Rashaan Evans.
Evans is the son of former Auburn running back Alan Evans and lives in Auburn, which makes Jordan-Hare Stadium the closer Iron Bowl locale for him than Bryant-Denny Stadium, where he played for the final time last weekend against Mercer.
Yet Evans has been dealing with distractions since Labor Day weekend in the form of injuries to numerous Crimson Tide linebackers. Alabama opened this season against Florida State in Atlanta's Mercedes-Benz Stadium with a starting linebacker quartet of Evans, Shaun Dion Hamilton, Terrell Lewis and Christian Miller.
Evans is the only one of those expected to suit up Saturday when the No. 1 Crimson Tide (11-0, 7-0 SEC) and No. 6 Tigers (9-2, 6-1) collide to determine the Western Division champion of the Southeastern Conference.
"I've just tried to lead them and help the younger players get better at their game," Evans said early this week in a news conference. "It hasn't been that difficult. The toughest thing is just building chemistry, because you want great communication with each other so the defense around us can do the same thing."
Lewis (elbow) and Miller (biceps) were injured in the 24-7 win over FSU and have not been cleared to return. Hamilton suffered a broken kneecap this month against LSU, which ended his college career.
Evans sustained a groin injury in the opener that caused him to sit out contests against Fresno State and Colorado State, but he returned for the Sept. 23 game at Vanderbilt and helped lead one of the most dominating performances in SEC history. Alabama held the Commodores to 78 total yards on 38 plays, and Vanderbilt's three first downs were the fewest by a league team in 20 years.facebook
Alabama heads into the Iron Bowl leading the nation in total defense (allowing 244.1 yards per game) and scoring defense (yielding 10.2 points a contest), with Evans having tallied 48 tackles and a team-high 9.5 tackles for loss.
"Rashaan has done an outstanding job for us," Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban said. "He's gone through a lot with his own injuries and coming back. The loss of other players created multiple roles for him that we were hoping we wouldn't have to endure throughout the season, but he's done a good job of handling that and preparing.
"As we've lost other players, he's picked up his leadership in terms of helping other players in the front seven play well and helping in the development of some of the younger players."
The most recent development project for Evans has been linebacker Dylan Moses, a top-15 national prospect in the 2017 signing class who struggled during the 31-24 triumph at Mississippi State on Nov. 11 but came back last week to rack up 11 tackles, four tackles for loss and an interception against the Bears.
"Dylan Moses performed very well," Evans said, "and I feel like that was a great game for him to build some confidence. I feel like he'll be great for this game as well."
Evans was a top-15 national prospect in the 2014 signing class and took his recruiting process to the wire before picking the Crimson Tide over the Tigers. His father signed with Auburn in 1982 along with Bo Jackson and transferred to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga after a couple of seasons.
His mother, Chenavis, has four degrees from Auburn, including a doctorate in industrial and organizational psychology.
Though there was the expected backlash that occurred when Evans signed with Alabama, it eventually subsided, and there has been no looking back from the family's standpoint. Evans has been a part of a senior class that has compiled a sparkling 51-4 record, and a 52nd win Saturday would set an NCAA record.
Evans was asked earlier this week about his Iron Bowl memories, with his parents having lived in Auburn since 1990, but he didn't delve too far back, proving again that he is not one for distractions.
"When I was being recruited, that's when I saw the 'Kick Six' or whatever it was," he said. "That just goes to show you what kind of game this is. You have to play to the last minute. If you don't, crazy things like that will happen."
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.