Many in Dawgnation have expressed bewilderment at the recent crop of decommitments and newly "soft" verbals among Georgia's class of 2008.
The most recent is Mt. Zion tailback Martin Ward, who's opening up his recruitment vis-a-vis the large lizards to the south, possibly at the urging of his new head coach, a Tampa transplant whom Ward's former head coach calls "a Florida guy". We here at Dawgsports emphatically believe that term to be an oxymoron (much like an "Auburn education" or "Nick Saban's ethical conundrum"). But that's another post for another day.
This of course followed offensive guard B.J. Brand, who is apparently considering making the shorter trip to Tallahassee, among other places, for his college experience. I'll let Orson make the Bobby Bowden joke that should go . . .here, because some things are just better left to the professionals.
I think what we're seeing is partially the result of an ever expanding recruiting calendar. Even 4 years ago the idea of having 10 public commitments for one signing class before the previous year's class had been inked would have seemed preposterous outside of the state of Texas (where Mack Brown can already tell you about all the best instate players for the class of 2012). And the fact is 16 year old boys change their minds. A lot. For any reason, or no reason at all.
Brand and Ward have in common that Georgia was among their first major offers. I think they would tell you now that they each committed way too early, and should have looked around some. But there's always the fear that the first big offer will be the last. So they accepted a little prematurely.
But I think there are also some other trends at play here that deserve watching. One is our coaches' early talent evaluation. One trend I've noticed over the past couple of years is that our coaches are finding and offering guys, especially in state, before the other ACC/SEC schools are. This is a double-edged sword. It's always good to be the first school to offer, as it gives you a leg up in building relationships with players and their families and shows a certain level of commitment. At the same time, it brings attention from other schools.
And that attention from other schools can even intensify after a commitment. As Coach Rodney Garner often notes, a verbal commitment just tells every other school who to target. I'm willing to bet that B.J. Brand has been getting an earful from other schools about the number of offensive linemen we signed this year. Martin Ward is certainly getting copies of articles about Danny Ware entering the NFL draft, and being told that he'll never be a star at the University of Georgia, just one of 3-4 tailbacks scratching for 10 carries a game.
Another trend is that head coaches are now using the spring evaluation period as a sort of stealth recruitment period. Back in the old days (like, 1998) head coaches hit the speaking and charity golf circuit from March to June while assistants beat the bushes for talent. Now, schools have their list of top recruits in place in February (or earlier). This has led to guys like Nick Saban, Urban Meyer and Tommy Tuberville spending their May afternoons flying to small towns all over the south to be seen at spring practices by players who, due to NCAA rules, they can't actually talk to.
Mark Richt expressed his frustration over this turn, but admits that he can't stop it and in turn has joined in (watching A.J. Harmon practice at Jefferson County High School earlier this week. Why? Because if you are a high school player and a famous coach shows up to watch you practice, you will certainly take note. If asked by some reporter that same day if you're interested in the coach's team, you are going to say yes, because you are. The fact that the head coach came out just to see you is flattering, as well it should be. When Phil Fulmer or Tommy Tuberville shows up the next day, your decision isn't going to get any easier.
Adding to the problem is the sheer volume of recruiting coverage out there. A lot of players used to commit on their unoffical visits. But no one knew or cared. Now, even rumors of early commitments leave thousands hitting the refresh button in anticipation. Players have a lot more opportunities to break the news to the outside world, and take those opportunities.
If you're one of those people who goes nuts over losing recruits, having them say their commitment is "soft", and unsubstantiated rumors that the top quarterback in the state is taking an official visit to the University of Hawaii (Lord knows I would if I were him), the recruiting world is growing less friendly for you. Because this is the shape of things to come. The war between the recruiting services is only heating up, and solid commitments don't sell subscriptions.
Believe me, if B.J Brand and Martin Ward don't end up in Athens, someone else (Dontavius Jackson, Nick McRae, A.J. Hawkins . . .) will. There are enough quality players that Mark Richt and crew will certainly bag the limit. And there's really no certainty that these guys won't end up at Georgia if their offer is still there. Something drew them to commit in the first place, and if they're worth having I promise you we won't be backing off.
It's also worth noting that new prospects will emerge over the next few weeks and months. They always do. Just ask Tim Jennings, who couldn't get a scholarship offer from the Curl Up and Dye School of Cosmotology the summer before his senior year. He turned out OK I think. So, in short, I'm not worried about the recent decommitments, and I actually cover recruiting. Believe me, you shouldn't be concerned in the least.