ATHENS – Like all coaches, Kirby Smart doesn’t like to single out individual prospects on signing day, and he went out of his way to not do that Wednesday. But if you listen closely to his comments and read the tea leaves a little, you can tell there’s a few members of Georgia’s 2017 recruiting class about whom he’s particularly excited.
Based on Smart’s remarks and some basic insights on the roster, here are some players I believe could make a notable impact in their first seasons with the Bulldogs.
OT Isaiah Wilson
I asked Smart on Wednesday what was Isaiah Wilson’s actual size and he laughed. It’s interesting because Georgia listed the 6-foot-7 offensive tackle from Brooklyn as 373 pounds on its signing day streaming podcast and 350 pounds on its official signees list. Previously, he was listed as 335 pounds on some recruiting sites. When I was up in Brooklyn last week visiting Wilson for my Next Generation story, he told me he weighed about 340. But his coach, Kevin Fountaine, said “no way, he’s way over that” because of all the traveling and eating Wilson had been doing throughout recruiting and their football season being over since early November.
Smart said he couldn’t be sure. “I can’t actually tell you what he weighs right now because I don’t know,” he said. “But there have definitely been different numbers out there that have been reported. We’ll see what he comes in at.”
That said, Smart made no bones his belief that Wilson has the size, strength and ability to play right away as a freshman offensive lineman. Indications are he’ll be given a hard look to start at right tackle.
“(He’s) certainly capable of competing,” Smart said. “I don’t want to call out one guy in a whole class but this guy is talented. I’ve been fortunate to be around some really good offensive tackles. Cam Robinson played (at Alabama) as a freshman; Andre Smith played at Alabama before I got there as a freshman. So there have been some talented guys. He has the right mental makeup, the right demeanor.”
John Theus, Trinton Sturdivant and Clint Boling have also started as true freshmen tackles at Georgia in recent history. One of the keys for Wilson, though, is that he get in tip-top condition before summer camp. Scheduled to arrive in June with the rest of the signees, Smart believes Wilson will do that between they training plan they’ll put him on while he finishes high school and the regimen he’ll encounter once he arrives.
“It’s definitely important that he comes in at a manageable weight,” Smart said. “The good thing is that in college football you get 60 days before they come into camp to monitor some of that. But he’s a talented young man. He’s got a great family, he’s got a great personality. He’s fun to talk to every time.”
TB D’Andre Swift
Pretty cool that Georgia signed a guy called Swift at tailback, one named Speed (Ameer) at defensive back and a Hunter (Jaden) at linebacker. But D’Andre Swift may be the most intriguing of those three guys.
One would think the Bulldogs weren’t expecting a lot out of the 5-foot-9, 220-pound Philadelphian considering they have senior stars Nick Chubb and Sony Michel returning in the backfield along with lettermen Brian Herrien and Elijah Holyfield. But, again, Smart’s comments reveal that the coaching staff is expecting to get contributions from him. Possibly in the returns game if nowhere else.
“He really believes he’s going to come in and contribute and help,” Smart said. “(There’s) certainly a lot of return yards missing off this team. We hope he’s able to help with that. We know he can flex out and play in the slot. He’s got a little bit of Sony in him. He’s got a little bit of Nick in him. I think that’s a good mixture. The most important thing is he comes from a wonderful family and he is a fierce competitor. I look forward to having him on our team.”
Clearly, the Bulldogs favored Swift over former commitment Toneil Carter. Carter was supposed to be an early enrollee, but Georgia withdrew that opportunity because of a scholarship numbers issue and Carter ended up enrolling at Texas.
Meanwhile, Swift endeared himself to the coaching staff with his reaction to the news that both Chubb and Michel planned to return for their senior seasons.
“To be on the end of the phone with him when he found out that Nick and Sony were staying, (he was) unfazed,” Smart shared. “‘That’s awesome, Coach. I get to learn from two of the best.’ How many kids in America would say that today? He was unfazed by it.”
QB Jake Fromm
Jake Fromm, a 6-foot-2, 221-pound early enrollee from Warner Robins, is another signee from which one would think there couldn’t be much opportunity for impact simply because of the makeup of the depth chart. But Smart’s assertions hint otherwise, both in his signing day comments at his press briefing in Athens and later on the SEC Network’s Paul Finebaum Show.
Fromm, who drew a 5-star prospect rating from Rivals.com, is obviously coming in behind another former high-profile signee in Jacob Eason, who started 12 games as a true freshman last season. But Smart made it clear he expects Fromm to push the incumbent from the get-go.
“I’m excited about the competition because it’s going to push Jacob,” Smart said. “It already is. This kid gets off the plane from the Army All-American Game and he wants every receiver’s cellphone number. He wants to throw with them. And if they’re not throwing with him, he wants to know why they’re not. That’s the best thing for Jacob right now.”
That has been the general narrative regarding Georgia’s quarterback competition, that Fromm’s presence alone should push Eason and make him better. But Smart’s comments to Finebaum indicate the competition between them will be more than motivational.
“We’re going to have a great battle this spring,” Smart said. “Jake Fromm is coming in and he’s a competitive guy, Paul. He enjoys the game. He was a state champion in baseball. He’s got a lot of personality to him. He’s already having an impact on this team. I think he’s having an impact on Jacob Eason just with the way he works. So those guys are going to have some good battles. I was really pleased that Jake was willing to step up to the challenge and come in here and compete against him.”
Keep in mind, while Eason was the unabashed, No. 1 quarterback target of Georgia’s previous administration, Fromm was Smart’s No. 1 choice going back to his commitment to Alabama when Smart was recruiting him for the Crimson Tide. So there’s a long history and deep belief between those two individuals.
“I think (Fromm has) the ability to come in and really be No. 2 and come in and compete,” Smart told Finebarm. “First off, he knows there’s a great opportunity there. And he grew up wanting to play at Georgia. In this state, that matters. It really does. … When I got this job he said it was his lifelong dream to come to play at Georgia, so he wasn’t going to run and hide from competition. He’s going to get that anywhere he went. So we’re excited to have him.”
There are a lot of other signees that promise to have an impact on Georgia’s 2017 season. A junior college prospect of the ilk of D’Marcus Hayes – 4-star recruiting rank, No. 2 overall JUCO offensive lineman – doesn’t sign with a school unless there reasonable chance of substantial playing time. The Bulldogs’ hope is that he can win the left-tackle job.
And safeties Richard LeCounte (247Sports, ESPN) and Deangelo Gibbs (Scout) both earned 5-star ratings in recruiting and come in playing positions where there should be opportunity. The Bulldogs will be looking for replacements at strong safety and nickel.
Also, Georgia has to get some new contributions at the receiver position. The Bulldogs signed four, with 4-star prospects Jeremiah Holloman and Mark Webb bringing in the highest ratings. But all of them have the resident size they’ve been missing.
But Georgia should get impact across the board from this group. You don’t sign what is considered the consensus third-best recruiting class in America without expecting participation all over the field.
“We wanted to attack the offensive line, attack the front, improve the depth in the secondary and just throughout the team,” Smart said. “We struggled on special teams to find fast guys that can run. That’s always a target for us, to get good players and protect our state.”
There’s still 180 days until preseason camp, but for now at least it would appear that mission was accomplished.