As jacewalden notes in the Diaries, this is at once the best and worst of times for we college football fans. As one season draws to a close, we are confronted with the cold, dark and football deprived days of winter.
Except for the recruiting nuts, of course. In the old days (like, you know, 2002) the end of bowl season was the beginning of the average college football fan's acknowldgement of the recruiting process. Unless there was a star linebacker living next door and Joe Paterno kept walking through your pansies to get to him, you probably had no idea what players were slated to suit up for your favorite team next season, or as is more and more the case, this spring.
But no more. The recruiting business has accelerated. This is true nowhere so much as in Bulldog Nation, where Mark Richt likes to have next year's hay in the barn long before this year's is spent. Coach Richt remarked recently that it's basically a game of keeping the players we've got at this point. Cryptically, he may have even acknowledged that we're done but for a formal announcement or two from silently committed players.
So, while I'll do a much more extensive breakdown on the Class of 2008 closer to Signing Day, now seems like a good time to look at exactly where we are, position by position. We'll start where every successful season begins: with the big uglies up front.
After last year's epic offensive line haul, the numbers this year were sure to be down on that side of the ball. Seriously, Coaches Richt and Garner picked up so many offensive linemen that they weren't able to go through the express checkout lane without getting dirty looks from the coaches behind them. Coach Searel's unit will now return 11 players and feature not a single senior in 2008. This unit is still very young, and only a truly talented freshman would stand a chance of playing in '08. So far the 'Dawgs have commitments from center Ben Jones, tackle Cordy Glenn, and guard/tackle Jonathan Owens. If we pick up one more commit, I'm guessing it comes on the offensive line, and probably be from one of three candidates, Ohio native Zebrie Sanders, Jefferson County standout A.J. Harmon, or Floridian Ricky Barnum. Even if we don't add another, we'll have 14 guys on scholarship, though only 6 will have significant playing time headed into the season opener. Oh, and if you haven't heard of him already, watch out for Ben Jones (hat tip: Paul Westerdawg). He'll enroll in January, be available for spring practice, and may very well be fighting it out with redshirt freshman Ben Harden to be our starting center next season.
At defensive tackle, it's a similar story. We're not losing much, so there's only so much that can be added. Georgia will graduate no defensive tackles with significant experience, and the one junior who might have gone into the NFL Draft, Jeff Owens, has basically already decided against doing so. If we were going to add anybody to this unit, it was going to have to be a special player. Like, for example, Statesboro tackle Deangelo Tyson, rated as one of the top 3 defensive tackles in the country. Tyson has long arms, quick feet and plays hard. He's a solid pickup by any measure, and will remind 'Dawg fans a little of Jonathan Sullivan.
At defensive end, the story is a little different. We're losing one (Marcus Howard) and replacing him with three (Jeremy Longo, Toby Jackson and Cornelius Washington. Washington was the first commit of the class of 2008. At 6'4 and 220 pounds, he's been timed at 4.51 seconds in the forty yard dash. His highlight film shows that it's not just track speed. The guy is fast off the ball and in pursuit. He reminds me of a somewhat quicker Roderick Battle coming out, and will likely grow into a strongside end in the Battle mold.
Longo is another quick and rangy pass rusher. When I watched film of him in June, I wasn't impressed by his technique, and I still think he's a project. But his pure athleticism make it a worthwhile project. Toby Jackson is interesting both because he's the most complete player of the three and because he's the one who may not make it to Athens. Jackson has been visiting a lot of places since his surprise commitment back in early June, most notably Tuscaloosa. I imagine he'll end up at Georgia, but I wouldn't be surprised if he didn't. Jackson has an unbelievable first step at 6'4 and 250 pounds. I could easily see him putting on 30-35 pounds and becoming a very disruptive defensive tackle down the road, if he can keep that quickness. I'm not sure exactly where we're going to put all these guys, as we'll have 9-11 defensive ends depending on where you list Brandon Wood, Jarius Wynn and incoming freshman Bryce Ros. But I'm sure the coaches have a plan.
At tight end, we're losing little used senior Coleman Watson, who will mostly be remembered for catching Matt Stafford's first touchdown pass against Western Kentucky in 2006. We'll be replacing him with Bryce Ros and, possibly, Dwayne Allen.
Allen is without a doubt the real deal at tight end. He's not a hulking block of granite in the Ben Watson mold, but is sort of a blend of Watson and Randy McMichael: smaller and more polished catching than Watson but a more physical blocker at a younger age than McMichael. I still think Ros ends up at defensive end, linebacker or even defensive tackle. I just wasn't impressed with the ball skills I saw on his junior tape, as he let the ball get into his body a lot. But he was also a solid blocker, so if his hands have improved, he may yet stay on offense. We won't be taking anybody else at the tight end position unless we have some sort of mass defection between now and the beginning of February.
I'll be back tomorrow with a brief look at the skill position players. Until then . . .