ATHENS — Another successful signing day was logged by the Georgia Bulldogs on Wednesday. But seriously, how often have you ever heard anybody say they had a bad day at the recruiting office?
That said, Kirby Smart gets high marks for his first year. That’s based largely on the fact that he has been on the job less that two months and he spent half of that time working as defensive coordinator for Alabama. His primary objective was to hold together the class amassed under previous coach Mark Richt. And he was able to do that, for the most part.
There were some late misses, but the Bulldogs were swinging for the fences on a lot of their late offers. And it can’t be overstated what was already in the fold. Georgia had six early enrollees, including 5-stars in quarterback Jacob Eason and tight end Isaac Nauta.
10 things to know about UGA’s 2016 class
1. No. 1 recruit is already on campus
It can’t be overlooked that Georgia landed the consensus top quarterback in the country. Eason has been enrolled for nearly a month and is already well-entrenched in strength and conditioning, voluntary pass-skeleton drills and playbook study. This was the No. 1 overall priority and it was exceedingly met.
“Keeping Jacob a part of this class was critical,” Smart said at his mid-afternoon press briefing. “It showed momentum, showed confidence in our program and the University of Georgia. Coach (Jim) Chaney (Georgia’s new offensive coordinator) keeping him involved and then obviously them blending with our current players in the recruiting process helped a lot.”
The 6-foot-5 Eason revealed he has already gained 15 pounds in the four weeks he’s been in Athens and is up to 230.
2. Batch of 5-star talents … one more?
Depending on how things shake out with 5-star wide receiver Demetris Robertson of Savannah — he’s not signing until next week at the earliest — Georgia has the potential to sign four 5-star prospects. Make what you will of recruiting rankings but, the fact is, there are only 32 5-star-rated recruits nationwide. So to land that percentage is exceptional in any year, never mind one in which the coaching staff is completely turned over.
3. Two-way star?
One of those 5-stars is athlete Mecole Hardman, who can actually help the Dogs on either side of the ball. Hardman chose Georgia over Alabama and is thought to be coming to the Bulldogs primarily as a defensive back. But as he proved in high school and some all-star games, he’s also an impressive play-maker on offense and could also be a special teams contributor.
“He wants to develop as a DB, and I think the marriage between he and Coach (Mel) Tucker is critical, because Coach Tucker is a great developer of DBs and can teach Mecole a lot of things that he needs to learn,” Smart said. “But he is special with the ball in his hands. When you go across the state and you talk to the high school coaches, a lot of people talk about his ability to affect the game. … And when you look at (offensive coordinator) Jim Chaney’s history, he’s got a history of really being able to use guys like those guys. It made it a good sell for us.”
4. Looking for linemen
For all of Smart’s talk about Georgia getting bigger and deeper on both lines of scrimmage, that didn’t exactly happen. The Bulldogs signed three offensive linemen and four defensive linemen, but missed on some of the biggest targets on the board.
Smart said he was “very pleased” about their work on the defensive front, but not necessarily on the offensive line. That’s especially disappointing considering UGA enlisted line coach Sam Pittman to the tune of $900,000 ($650,000 per year in salary plus a $250,000 buyout) to coach.
“It’s not exactly what we want,” Smart said of the offensive line. “We want some offensive tackles. If you say what’s the number one need going into 2017′ it’s offensive tackles. That’s the most deficient area on our front. … That’s probably the area I’d say if we’re most disappointed in it’s on the offensive line.”
5. Weapons for Jacob Eason
Georgia needed to address its shortcomings at wide receiver, specifically from a size standpoint. Missing from last year’s group was a true possession receiver with the size to make block-out and high-point receptions in crucial situations. The Bulldogs got a couple of strong candidates that could fill that bill in Javon Wims (6-4, 220) and Charlie Woerner (6-5, 240).
Woerner is well known for having an uncle — Scott Woerner — who made it to the College Football Hall of Fame after playing for Georgia. But they’re completely different types of athletes. The youngest Woerner is big enough that some projections have him playing tight end for the Bulldogs.
Wims is the consummate “plug-and-play” receiver who comes to Georgia from Hinds Community College in Vicksburg, Miss. Wims also has endeared himself to Georgia fans already because of his relationship with Brandon Sudge, the Buford senior who he befriended during recruiting and brought on his official visit.
6. Looking closer at the numbers
A lot of people wondered if Georgia might over-sign, as Alabama had been known to do in some years past while Smart was there. As it turns out, the Bulldogs actually under-signed. The Bulldogs finished the day with 20 signees in the 2016 class. They could have signed as many as 25.
Smart explained that he not only didn’t want to “reach” for prospects to fill slots, but that Georgia will also be looking at a small class in 2017 and needs to carry over some scholarships.
“I think it’s important in your first year to have those spots available for next year when you get a full recruiting cycle,” Smart said. “I’ve talked to a lot of guys that have been in a similar situation. A mistake they made was to try to fill holes, fill spots, and when you do that you hurt next year’s signing class, which I anticipate being one of our better ones because it’s our first full recruiting cycle.”
7. Final report card
How good did Georgia do overall? It’s a matter of perspective, of course. The Bulldogs were ranked No. 7 in 247Sports.com’s composite poll, which takes into account the ratings of all the major recruiting sites. But whether that’s higher or lower than where they might have been had they stuck with Richt and not made a coaching change is hard to tell.
Smart and his new staff definitely made an imprint. Michail Carter, David Marshall, Riley Ridley and Tyler Simmons are among the new additions that Georgia likely would not have had without the change. On the other hand, it could be argued that the turnover negatively affected the outcomes with major targets Derrick Brown (Auburn) and E.J. Price (Southern Cal). At least a dozen of the signees were unwavered by the transition.
8. Recruiting help from above
UGA President Jere Morehead and Athletic Director Greg McGarity get at least some credit for keeping the Bulldogs’ class together. According to McGarity, he or Morehead and usually both attended every official breakfast and dinner held for prospects during their visits.
“We met all the kids and also got a chance to be around Kirby and his staff,” McGarity said. “The president and I think it sends a good message that we’re unified and we’re all here to help in anyway we can.”
9. Strategy on kickers
Georgia didn’t sign a kicker and Smart admitted that scares him “to death.” But he said it was a calculated risk to sign a punter and not a kicker.
“In my history, I’ve found that you can find more quality kickers through the walk-on route than you can quality punters,” Smart said. “And after sitting down, sharing ideas, talking to people in the NFL, people that have experience even at the college level, we felt like as a staff that it was going to be harder to manufacture punting than it would be field goal or place-kicking.”
Georgia has two walk-on place-kickers already on the roster in Rodrigo Blankenship and William Ham. The Bulldogs signed U.S. Army All-America Marshall Long of China Grove, N.C., as punter
10. The last signee of the day
Georgia’s last signee of the day represented the least suspense. Jaleel Laguins, a 6-foot-2, 209-pound linebacker from Oconee County High, has been a commitment since last summer and was still considered a “hard commit” before his 5:30 p.m. ceremony in Watkinsville. But Laguins said he wanted both his parents to be there with him at the end of their working day. And he waited until then to physically sign his letter of intent. He’s the only inside linebacker in the class.