Auburn, Ala.--It wasn't perfect as far as scrimmages go but Saturdays first scrimmage of the spring provided highlights on both sides of the ball for the Tigers as both the offense and defense had bright moments. While it was several big plays by the offense that stood out, on defense it was the play of the linebackers that easily was the story of the day led by junior Chris Evans.
With first-team linebacker Merrill Johnson injuring his calf early in the scrimmage, Evans became the iron man for the Tigers as he moved up to the first-team in the middle while also seeing some time on the outside with the second defense. Making plays from sideline to sideline, Evans finished with 11 tackles to lead the defense. He says that he was just doing his job when called upon.
"I was just hustling to the ball and letting the coaches coach," Evans says. "I just wanted to hustle to the ball and be a team player. I had to step up today because we had our first-team linebacker Merrill Johnson go down today. It was just me. I had to go."
Used very little in his first two seasons after redshirting his first year, the 6-0, 214 Evans showed how much hard work can pay off as his performance Saturday was one of the better for a defensive player in recent memory. He credits his improvement to the work he's put in with James Willis and Will Muschamp.
"Working with Coach Willis and Coach Muschamp, they have taught me a lot," Evans says. "The first two or three years I wasn't playing with my head, I was playing with aggression. They calmed me down and teach me the ropes day by day. I feel like I'm getting better."
Chris Evans played like a man possessed on Saturday.
Evans' play definitely caught the eye of Muschamp. In his second spring as Auburn's defensive coordinator, Muschamp is looking for playmakers on defense and Evans showed on Saturday that he has the ability to be the kind of player for the Tigers.
"Chris stepped up," Muschamp says. "One man's misfortune is another man's opportunity. Chris stepped up and made some plays and played physical and tough. We'll see where we need to go from here."
Joining Evans in having a good day were fellow linebackers Patrick Trahan and Craig Stevens. They had 10 and nine tackles respectively for a defensive unit that Muschamp says did some good things despite a couple of lapses that allowed the offense some big plays.
"We had good effort," Muschamp says. "It was a little better tackling than I thought it would be for the first scrimmage. The kids really competed and played hard and got around the ball and had some emotion and some enthusiasm. We gave up a couple of plays down the field. I was real pleased with third downs. We got off the field on third down and that's been a point of emphasis. I thought we played the run pretty well for the first scrimmage."
Joining Muschamp in his assessment of the defense was senior Quentin Groves. Although he watched much of the scrimmage from the sidelines while young players such as Michael Goggans and Darrell Roseman got much of the work, Groves says he was pleased with the first scrimmage of the spring by the defense.
"I think we did good and some areas we have to get better," Groves says. "We gave up a couple of big plays but it was mainly little things that we have to get better at. They have a great offense over there and a host of players but if we shore ourselves up we'll be okay."
Saturday's scrimmage finished up the first one/third of spring practice for Auburn as they have finished five days of practice heading into the A-Day Game on March 17. Muschamp says so far he has been happy with the attitude of the defense and he's looking for more improvement before spring practice is done.
"It has been typical Auburn," Muschamp says. "We get great effort. The kids fly around and are a lot of fun to coach. Now we have 10 more days to get better."