We've hit that part of the college football slate that is really neither fish nor fowl. Obviously there's no Georgia Bulldog football this weekend. I for one will be tuning in tomorrow to watch the Navy/Army game, which will of course be won by the Midshipmen, but that's about it for actual college football. So I can't really justify a Friday Tailgate. At the same time, it's not really the offseason yet. Important postseason awards remain to be handed out and nary a bowl game has been played. So Free Form Friday posting is also a bit premature. What is a blogger to do?
The answer is to switch into recruiting mode. As we've repeatedly discussed in this space, I cover college football recruiting for the site. I attempt to do so in the least skeevy way possible. Part of that philosophy is taking great pains not to focus on recruiting for its own sake until such time as there's no meaningful Georgia football being played. That time is now.
So the plan is to talk recruiting in this space on Fridays through Signing Day in February. I'll post highlight videos of players who have pledged to play football in Athens and perhaps some who are still considering doing so. We'll talk about positions of need, and we'll spread baseless rumor and innuendo. I'll generally lay out a main topic for the post, but you should feel free to deviate wildly from that theme in the comments. Just because a player or position isn't mentioned in the post doesn't mean it's off topic. As long as we're talking college recruiting, we're on topic. It'll be a blast.
Today's question for you is this: what one high school football player for the class of 2011 can our coaches least afford to miss out on? I'm talking about a player who has either a) already committed to the Bulldogs or b) is still considering Georgia, so far as we know.
Many would be tempted to say tailback Isaiah Crowell of Carver-Columbus. That would not be an unreasonable position. Crowell is universally proclaimed as one of the top 20 players in the country regardless of position and is easily one of the top 3-5 most sought-after tailbacks in the land. It appears that he will likely choose between Georgia and Alabama, with Clemson being a bit of a darkhorse candidate.
I'm inclined to disagree. Crowell is a bluechip tailback, no doubt. But the state of Georgia produces from 1-3 bluechip tailbacks a year. And the cupboard in Athens is not going to be bare any time soon. Caleb King will be around through 2011, Washaun Ealey through 2012, and Boo Malcome likely through 2014. Keep an eye on Malcome. It appears that only nagging injuries in camp kept him out of the rotation as a true freshman in 2010. He has the size/speed combo to be an every down tailback if need be. I continue to believe that King and Ealey are both perfectly good, SEC-caliber tailbacks, who would each have looked a lot better this season had anyone bothered to block for them. Funny how solid blocking up front makes any tailback look like a thoroughbred, no?
And while Crowell is a gifted ballcarrier, the Carver coaches don't ask him to do a lot of blocking, which would limit his utility in 2011. Our offense loses a lot of effectiveness when it's obvious we'll either run or pass, and that can be tipped off not just by down, distance and formation but also by the personnel in the game. So while Crowell might be good for a spark in the near term,and is definitely good enough to get reps as a freshman, I just don't know that he would be "the guy" in Athens until 2012. Add to that a senior season that has seen him significantly limited by lower body injuries (a bad, bad thing for young tailbacks) and it becomes clear to me that Crowell's not a panacea.
An argument could also be made for Jay Rome, the tight end out of Valdosta and son of Clemson great Stan Rome. The younger Rome is a prototypical tight end, 6'5, 230-ish with good ball skills. He's improved his blocking as a senior and looks like he could continue to mature into an NFL caliber tight end.
But Georgia has established a penchant for recruiting bluechip tight ends year in and year out. And the ones on campus now seem to have things covered. Aron White and Orson Charles will be back in 2011, and Charles may well be playing in the Classic City in 2012. Artie Lynch likewise appears to have 2 more seasons in Athens. All of which means that if we miss on the top tight end in the state it would be a bad thing, but it wouldn't be a killing blow.
One could also make a case for Grady High corner Damian Swann or Rome's Valdosta teammate Malcolm Mitchell. Each of them could play either corner or wide receiver. We're clearly in need of receiving help with the impending loss of A.J. Green and Kris Durham, and Heaven knows Coach Lakatos's secondary can use all the help it can get. However, I continue to believe that our receivers will be better than some expect in 2011. The problem faced by Brown, Wooten, Troupe and company this season was that you can only get so many of them on the field at any given time. And Green and Durham rarely gave Mike Bobo and Tony Ball a reason to sit them in 2010. I also firmly believe that 2010 signee Michael Bennett will contribute at receiver, and that 2011 commit (and Dawgsports TMI subject) Chris Conley is very underrated at this point and could play early.
Ditto at corner. After some shuffling, a couple of injuries and a whole lot of busted coverages, Sanders Commings has emerged as the big, physical corner Coach Lakatos wants on one side. Brandon Boykin, should he return for his senior campaign, is likely entrenched on the other side. Branden Smith and Derek Owens have both shown potential as well. Finally, Jakar Hamilton will be executing a death-defying maneuver known as the "reverse Bryan Evans", adding another experienced player to the corner rotation.
But in my mind, the guy we cannot miss on, the player who we will shake our collective heads while watching if he plays anywhere other than Athens is . . .
Ray Drew of Thomasville's Thomas County Central. Drew is currently listed around 6'5 and 240 pounds. He's likely a strongside outside linebacker in the 3-4, which, with the likely loss of Justin Houston we will sorely need. With T.J. Stripling coming back from a knee injury and Darryl Gamble graduating, Reuben Faloughi is about the only guy with significant experience at the spot opposite Cornelius Washington.
That's a critical position in our defense, and it is imperative that we shore it up. Georgia is also recruiting Griffin's Xzavier Dickson for a similar role, and while I like Dickson, I believe that Ray Drew has as much upside as any player I've seen in the class of 2011. He is the epitomy of Coach Grantham's strategy, laid out on Signing Day 2010, of finding fast, agile defenders in the 6'5, 240 pound range and seeing which ones stay linebackers and which ones grow into defensive linemen. No matter what position he plays I feel confident that Ray Drew is headed to the NFL, and I'd like his road there to lead through Athens.
For your viewing pleasure, here are some highlights of Drew, and an interview highlighting his work as a minister*. Yes, in addition to being a card-carrying tackling machine the kid is also a card-carrying minister. Of course there's not really one clear right answer to this question, at least not that we can know until these guys have played some college football. It's just shades of gray for the moment:
*Spoiler Alert: Ray Drew sometimes likes to dig into some Chinese food on Sunday after church and gives a great sermon. I can do the former, but not the latter, making me one/half the man Ray Drew is. The chunkier half, I suspect.