Peaches and Sunshine: Mark Richt's Revamped Recruiting Plans
When Mark Richt laid down the blueprint for Georgia’s newest recruiting plan last month, the thought that immediately came to mind was: “Why was this not the plan for the past 10 years?”
With the Bulldogs' football program now placing more emphasis than ever on the states of Georgia and Florida in the recruiting process, one can not help but wonder how much different the 2009 season could have been for the Georgia program.
The 2009 season is widely considered one of the worst and hardest seasons to endure in years by the passionate fan base, especially given the fact that rivals such as Florida and Alabama found such lofty success.
What if this plan had been in place all along under Richt? How would things have looked different, and would the program be in the same current predicament?
So here, if this plan were in place since 2001, could have been the roster for the Georgia Bulldogs 2009 season. For the record, this is a Bulldog pipe dream, nothing more.
Every single player on this imaginary roster hails from either Georgia or Florida — prompting the theme: If coaches can do it right, recruiting the Sunshine State and Peach State is all a program needs.
This might hurt a little.
A certain Jacksonville, Fla., native built upon his vaunted high school career and went on to become one of the greatest college football players ever — and he did it all with the support of jean short-clad fans everywhere.
Tim Tebow accomplished nearly everything a college player could dream of in his four years for Florida: national championships, Heisman winner, multiple records and even became a first-round draft pick.
Sure, under this Florida-Georgia-only scenario, the Bulldogs would have never seen Matthew Stafford (Dallas, Texas) play a single down in the silver britches. That’s a deal nearly any fan or coach would take on the college level. Stafford’s collegiate achievements, desire to win, and passion for the game always seemed to be lacking and will always pale in comparison to the newly-dubbed Mile High Messiah.
Tebow may not have fit into a pro-style system as well as he did in Urban Meyer’s spread, but the fact remains that he is a winner and leader of the highest degree — something Georgia fans have not seen since David Greene left Athens. It’s not like Stafford helped in 2009 anyway after bolting for the NFL.
With Tebow at the helm of the roster to follow, Georgia would not have to look all the way back to 1980 for the school’s last national championship.
2010 outlook: High school standouts John Brantley (Florida) and Aaron Murray battle for the No. 1 quarterback position — given that neither is arrested or looks to transfer.
The corps of running backs is staggering to even think about if Georgia were to have its pick of the litter in these two states, gaining a much-needed addition of speed and explosiveness in the backfield.
All-purpose speedsters C.J. Spiller and Dexter McCluster, who played their college careers at Clemson and Ole Miss respectively, could have split time in the backfield behind Tebow. The two backs both went within the first two rounds of the 2010 NFL Draft as they accounted for 76 combined touchdowns in their careers.
What Georgia loses by missing out on Knowshon Moreno (Belford, N.J.), this roster more than makes up for through depth and talent across the board. Need a tough yard, bring in Jonathan Dwyer (Georgia Tech). Need a big play, well those are readily available with the likes of McCluster and Spiller.
2010 outlook: Trent Richardson (Alabama) takes over the starting running back duties with Noel Devine (West Virginia) being utilized as a smaller back in the Thomas Brown mold. Washaun Ealey may see limited time in short yardage situations.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Georgia fans will find a glaring hole in the receiving department with the loss of the nation’s top receiver, A.J. Green, who is a South Carolina native. However, as far as depth in speed and size, coaches could take the loss of a player of Green’s abilities.
Demaryius Thomas, the Georgia Tech receiver who was taken in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft, would line up as a big target and down-the-field threat who also doubles as a strong blocking receiver for the running game.
More size and play-making ability would be available on the other side of the field with Riley Cooper, Tebow’s roommate in Georgia’s East Campus Village dorms. The slot could be manned by such receivers as Deonte Thompson (Florida), Leonard Hankerson (Miami), or even Carlton Thomas.
The tight end position likely would have still been in the possession of Bruce Figgins and the young Orson Charles. Though depth at the tight end spot would be lost by the absence of Aron White (Columbia, Mo.) and Arthur Lynch (Boston, Mass.), plenty of others could fill out the roster in similar ways.
Overall, Georgia takes a slight hit in this area with the loss of all-everything A.J. Green, who is being tabbed as a possible No. 1 selection in the 2011 draft.
2010 outlook: Georgia is littered with talented, yet unproven receivers with Thompson, Hankerson, Andre Debose (Florida), Travis Benjamin (Miami), and Tavarres King.
The offensive line would have been the best in the nation in 2009, hands down, in this scenario. Big-time recruit and NFL draftee Sam Young (Notre Dame) would have been a great fit at right tackle while Florida’s Marcus Gilbert, considered a top prospect in 2011 draft, would take the left tackle position.
The best center in college football would have manned the middle for Georgia, as Maurkice Pouncey (Florida) would be an upgrade over the already-solid Alabama native Ben Jones.
The guard position would have been dominant, with Mike Pouncey (Florida) and Orlando Franklin (Miami) clearing out acres of space for the running game. Both guards are considered two of the best in the country heading into the 2010 season.
2010 outlook: The guard positions are as solid as they come, as well as Gilbert returning at left tackle. Either Clint Boling or Trinton Sturdivant could take over the right tackle spot.
Ryan McMahon, the Florida State center from Savannah, Ga., takes over the center position as one of the best in the country.
Once again, scary good.
Former Bulldog defensive tackles Geno Atkins and Jeff Owens would still receive playing time in the middle, along with other sizable players Marcus Forston (Miami) and Terron Sanders (Florida). Running the ball would be a task in and of itself against this interior, as defensive line coach Rodney Garner could simply run this level of talent in and out of games all season long.
The defensive end positions would prove to be even scarier, with two future NFL draftees and athletic “freaks" Cameron Heyward (Ohio State) and Allen Bailey (Miami) causing nightmares for opposing defenses. Throw in Jermaine Cunningham (Florida) and Justin Houston to give the Bulldog bookends a rest, and Georgia sports the top defensive line in the country.
2010: Fortson and Sanders return in the middle, as well as Heyward and Bailey on the outside. Add in Houston and highly-touted defensive tackles Jacobbi McDaniel (Florida State), and linebackers would have had a much easier time.
NFL draftees Darryl Sharpton (Miami) and Eric Norwood (South Carolina) would be a formidable duo on the outside, bringing speed and athleticism to positions Georgia has underachieved at in recent years.
Both were productive in their careers at their respective schools, especially Norwood, who found a way to dominate games from time to time at his outside linebacker position — as long as Georgia could schedule some Thursday night games on ESPN.
Also, coaches would have been able to bring in Dekoda Watson (Florida State) in passing situations.
Georgia still lands Rennie Curran, a third-round draft pick and Snellville, Ga., native, to anchor the inside linebacker position. Although undersized, Curran consistently found the ball and his work ethic would have made sure he saw the field.
So with Georgia keeping its most productive linebacker, and upgrading at the other two spots, the 2009 linebacking corps could have avoided such constant criticism.
In the words of Sharpton’s famous uncle...hallelujah.
2010: The Bulldogs would lose all three starting linebackers to the NFL, but would have a talented crop from which to choose their replacements: Nigel Bradham (Florida State), Sean Spence (Miami), Frankie Telfort (USC), and highly-rated recruit Jeff Luc (Florida State).
No pass, or run for that matter, would be safe with the potential secondary Georgia could have put together in 2009.
At the corner positions, the Bulldogs would have been young but extremely talented with future NFL prospects Patrick Peterson (LSU) and Janoris Jenkins (Florida). The two athletes have combined for eight career interceptions, and both have ‘shutdown corner’ written all over their lengthy frames.
Combine those two with freshman sensation Greg Reid (Florida State) coming in for nickel corner duties, and the chance at a come-from-behind victory is slim to none.
The safety position, if possible, is even more formidable. Eric Berry (Tennessee) broke Georgia’s hearts when he opted for Tennessee out of high school — then further added to the pain by amassing an incredible three-year career at Tennessee.
The Fairburn, Ga., native finds his way back to his home state in this scenario and could anchor either safety spot alongside either Florida safeties Major Wright or Ahmad Black.
2010 outlook: All three corners return, although the loss of Berry would prove to be irreplaceable. Talented recruits Jonathan Dowling (Florida) and Demar Dorsey (Florida) could battle a returning senior Reshad Jones or sophomore Ray Ray Armstrong (Miami) for the final starting slot.
Georgia retains the best kicking game in the country with kicker Blair Walsh (Boca Raton, Fla.) and Ray Guy Award-winning punter Drew Butler (Duluth, Ga.).
Additionally, Javier Arenas (Alabama) and Greg Reid (Florida State) add even more flair to a Georgia return team that could include Brandon Boykin, Branden Smith, Jeff Demps (Florida) and Chris Rainey (Florida).
Kicking out of bounds might be the smartest option.
What Could Have Been...
Players who could have played for Georgia in the Richt era:
- Calvin Johnson (Georgia Tech)
- Devin Hester (Miami)
- Andre Johnson (Miami)
- Willis McGahee (Miami)
- Sean Taylor (Miami)
- Dunta Robinson (South Carolina)
- Jonathan Vilma (Miami)
- Ronnie Brown (Auburn)
- Chris Johnson (East Carolina)
Every last one of these Georgia or Florida natives had excellent college careers and went on to future success in the NFL. These are the types of stars available every year while recruiting these states.
Players Georgia misses out on under this scenario:
- Matthew Stafford (Texas)
- Knowshon Moreno (New Jersey)
- A.J. Green (South Carolina)
- Mohamed Massaquoi (North Carolina)
- Tim Jennings (South Carolina)
- Ben Watson (South Carolina)
In retrospect, Georgia’s coaches would trade the two rosters in a moment’s notice. Who wouldn’t?
Although this was just a pipe dream, it just goes to show the type of talent and team a Division I program can assemble simply through Georgia and Florida.
If you are a prospect in Georgia or Florida, get used to seeing the colors red and black around your high school campus, because Richt and his staff are finally getting serious about bringing in the talent that is close to home.