Can Dream Team End Richt’s Nightmare?

Flashing back: UGA playing highly-ranked rival Georgia Tech in Atlanta after already enduring five losses in a season for the first time in his tenure, head coach Mark Richt had embattled offensive coordinator Mike Bobo dial up a heavy dose of what successful offensive football teams at UGA have always been known for – powerful running football. The school that produced Herschel Walker, Moreno, Hearst and Hampton appeared to be finally back to basics on that final regular season day of 2009, as Washaun Ealey and Caleb King dominated the Yellow Jackets from the opening whistle. Then Georgia won a bowl game versus Texas A&M to finish out a tough campaign at 8-5.

With a redshirt freshman starting quarterback offset by a veteran offensive line and both backs returning, 2010 promised to be a successful year of smashmouth football. Instead, the running game faltered, while Georgia fell below .500 and lost a bowl game to the University of Central Florida Golden Knights.

Enter Isaiah Crowell and the 2011 recruiting Dream Team. King and Ealey have been more consistently in trouble off the gridiron than dominant on it, and number one nationally ranked running back Crowell should immediately jump from starting tailback at Carver High in Columbus to the national spotlight of carrying the ball for the Dawgs in their primetime Georgia Dome opening tilt versus power Boise State.

Mountain John Jenkins is obviously comparable to recent Bama great Mt. Cody. Both played for the same Mississippi junior college; both have prototypical size to play noseguard in the 3-4 defensive scheme now implemented at UGA and throughout much of the SEC; both came to major football universities to win championships. DeAngelo Tyson will shift to his natural 3-4 position of defensive end to make way for the mammoth Jenkins to start immediately in 2011. Look for Jenkins to have the most impact of any new starter in the conference next season, as defensive coordinator Todd Grantham’s defense takes major strides in year two.

At the other defensive end slot, hotshot recruit Sterling Bailey of Gainesville, GA has already shown to be of the highest character and ability. He will at the very least be in heavy rotation and may be the day one starter. Ray Drew of Thomasville was an even more prized high school defensive end, and he will be called on to provide a consistent pass rush at outside linebacker for Georgia. Drew’s ability to disrupt the timing of opposing quarterbacks and replace stud Justin Houston, an early NFL draftee-to-be, will be crucial to the overall strength of the defense.

Cornerback/wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell saw his recruiting stock soar as he spent more time on offense his senior year in Title Town, Valdosta.  Some recruiting services had Mitchell rated as the top cornerback in the nation; however, Mark Richt has already stated that he is leaning toward using the versatile weapon at punt returner and wide receiver, where the NFL exodus of all-world wideout A.J. Green creates an immediate need.  Look for Mitchell to be the opening day third receiver opposite Tavarres King and Rantavious Wooten. When the Dawgs line up in a four-receiver set, early enrollee Chris Conley of Dallas, GA could see the field. At 6-foot-3 with leaping ability, Conley has the size to create nightmarish mismatch problems for shorter opposing conference defensive backs.

Another UGA early enrollee is Christian LeMay out of Charlotte. Due to a disciplinary issue, LeMay sat out his senior year of high school and may resultantly redshirt his true freshman year in Athens. He is a polished passer and mobile young quarterback who could see his redshirt yanked if Aaron Murray and Hutson Mason both falter.

Jay Rome was Malcolm Mitchell’s high school teammate and the top tight end recruit in the country. The depth at tight end at Georgia is apparent, with sometime starters Orson Charles and Aron White both returning to action. However, Rome may be just too athletic not to play some right away.

Grady high school’s Damian Swann is a versatile athlete with strong cover skills. He is projected as the dime back and a compatible defensive complement to speed merchant returning corners Brandon Boykin, Sanders Commings and Branden Smith.

Linebacker Kent Turene of Lauderdale Lakes, FL verbally committed to Lane Kiffin and the USC Trojans of Los Angeles, before reconsidering and inking closer to home with UGA. Turene is expected to see playing time in the linebacker rotation, where depth is a bit of a concern. He has the developing size and closing speed to play both inside and outside linebacker in college. Highly-regarded linebacker recruit Amarlo Herrera also shows promise.

High school quarterback/athlete Nick Marshall of Wilcox County will likely switch to fulltime cornerback at Georgia and may need a redshirt season before he is ready to make a major contribution on defense. On the other hand, with Richt and the rest of the coaching staff desperate to improve the win total in 2011, Marshall could be the type of explosive skill athlete that commands to have the football in his hands due to his ability to make big plays.

Offensive line coach Stacy Searels has departed the University of Georgia for the same role with the University of Texas Longhorns in Austin. His replacement, Will Friend, has some tough decisions to make in terms of rotation, as attrition has left UGA a little thin up front. Recruits Xzavier Ward (Moultrie), Watts Dantzler (Dalton) and Zach DeBell  (Tarpon Springs, FL) will vie for playing time alongside Trinton Sturdivant, Cordy Glenn and company. Georgia simply must show improvement on the offensive line and in the running game if 2011 is to be a complete success.

And who knows, a more unheralded recruit may make the biggest impact over the long haul of a career of playing football at UGA.  One thing that is for sure is that this incoming group of top recruits was needed. A major talent infusion may quickly right the ship and eventually produce the ultimate goal at UGA: championships.