I Think They Call This "Excitement."
Mark Richt himself said it best during his Signing Day press conference:
I'm excited, I really am. I like our staff. I like keeping continuity within, but when change does happen and then you see the outpouring and the interest that people have to be at Georgia, it fires you up. It gets you excited.
And that's pretty much the takeaway from this day. For the first time since the 2011 "Dream Team" came together, it seemed that everything fell into place.
With Apologies To The Stones, If You Try, Sometimes, You Get Both.
Recruiting coverage is often about what the fans want. The big splash. Because that's what sells subscriptions and puts the clickity-clack in the old message boards. But recruiting for those who do it for a living, to keep their jobs, is first and foremost about filling needs. And the Bulldogs filled needs across the board. 2013's porous defensive backfield was a priority which saw special attention. Malkom Parrish and Shattle Fenteng are physical corners who will push for playing time immediately. Shaq Jones is a rangy coverage specialist who could grow into a really special player. Dominick Sanders could end up providing help at either corner or safety.
With the graduation of Artie Lynch (and the loss of Ty Fluornoy-Smith) tight end was another area with significant depth concerns. The Bulldog coaches addressed that position well before Signing Day with Jeb Blazevich, one of the top 5 tight ends in the nation and a tool 5 player in the state of North Carolina (continuing a string of excellent recruiting in the Tarheel State). But they surprised everyone on Signing Day by picking up a commitment from West Hall standout Hunter Atkinson. Atkinson may end up moving inside to tackle eventually, but should provide some insurance behind Jay Rome, Jordan Davis, and Blazevich.
Another area which desperately required an upgrade? The kick return game. It's been a while since Georgia had a viable threat in the return game. Instead we've watched Malcolm Mitchell return balls he should have fair caught, and Rhett McGowan fair catching as if his family would be beaten if he did anything else.
Enter Isaiah McKenzie. Richt didn't mince words about McKenzie's role, saying the speedster will "definitely be on the top of my list to see what he can do as a return man." I really don't care is McKenzie never sees a significant snap at slot receiver, scatback, or anywhere else on the field. If he locks down punt return duties for 3-4 years the way Thomas Flowers and Mikey Henderson did earlier in Richt's term, his scholarship will have been money well spent. We've long used scholarships on kickers. We've even used them on long snappers.
The time had come for Georgia to sign a guy who can make good things happen in the kick return game. I believe we found that guy, and I'm heartened that Mark Richt took the initiative to look for him. Special credit also goes to Coach McClendon, who did a great job of fending off the entire country to keep Sony Michel, and in the process kept us in it for a guy who easily could have gone elsewhere. McClendon by the way was named 247Sports's top recruiter for 2014. Jeremy Pruitt held that honor in 2012 and 2013. 2011's winner was Mike Bobo. Recruiters. We haz them.
Those recruiters somehow managed to convince Michel and Nick Chubb to come play on a team that features Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall for at least one more season, and which played two freshmen tailbacks and redshirted another in 2013. Frankly 2015 isn't that far away, and in college football time marches inexorably forward. One must always be feeding the engines, so to speak. Nobody in America did that better at the tailback slot today than the Red and Black.
Mark Richt Has Lost Control Of My Criticisms
I'm thrilled that Richt flat out said in his presser that the coaches view Kendall Baker as an offensive lineman. As I've said several times on this site I believe that's where he has the most upside. It's refreshing to see us not try to shoehorn a player into a position he doesn't belong at because of temporary depth concerns.
Aside from playing guys obviously out of position, another perennial gripe among Bulldog fans is the inability of Richt's staff to "close the borders." Let's set aside the questionable utility of that concept in a state where half the people in the largest metro area weren't there 20 years ago. A state in which many of the state's top recruits actually live much closer to Auburn, Tallahassee and Clemson than they do to Athens. A state which produces 100+ BCS signees per year, all of whom cannot sign with the state's flagship school as a matter of simple mathematics.
Leaving all of that aside, Mark Richt and company still signed 3 of the top 5 players in the state*. And with the possible exception of inside linebacker Raekwon McMillan (an Ohio State signee) it's hard to say that the 'Dawgs missed on an instate player at whose position they didn't do just as well or better out of state. It would have been nice to sign Gainesville QB Deshaun Watson, but there are a lot of folks in the know who actually like Jacob Park better. North Gwinnett defensive end Dante Sawyer is good enough to play at Georgia. But I'd rather have Keyon Brown at that spot. In other words, even where Georgia missed instate this cycle, the misses didn't hurt.
And shockingly, the Bulldog staff is already hitting the trail for 2015, another thing we've all wished they would do more aggressively. Georgia sits in very good shape for Albany defensive tackle Trenton Thompson, one of the top 10 players in the nation for 2015. They've already secured a commitment from coveted athlete Terry Godwin, and stud Griffin receiver Christian Owens. While it's very early to gage such things, Georgia looks set to sign between 23 and 26 players for 2015, and may better their consensus top 8 ranking from 2014.
Some might look at this 2014 class and point out that the Bulldog class ranked 8th nationally was only the 5th or 6th most highly rated class in the SEC. I'd point out that comparing Georgia's class to the 33 player ode-to-oversigning that is Tennessee's 2014 class is not really useful. What this 2014 class does is keep Georgia on par with the teams (LSU, Auburn, Alabama) who have been playing for national titles. It's now up to the coaching staff Mark Richt has assembled to turn potential into results better than their competition. That staff is why Mark Richt is so excited. They've assembled their bricks, now it's time to start building with them. Signing Day isn't the culmination of the effort to bring a national title back to Athens. It's the beginning. And today, for the first time in a couple of years, I think we moved closer to doing that. That's why I'm excited, too. Until later . . .
*For this analysis I'm using 247Sports's rankings because I find them to be the best in terms of overall coverage statewide and in terms of accuracy of individual player evaluations. Your mileage may vary.