Georgia Football: Will Emphasis on Defensive Recruiting Yield Championships?

Andrew Hall@DudeYouCrazyCorrespondent IIIJanuary 23, 2015

Georgia defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt
Georgia defensive coordinator Jeremy PruittJason Getz/Associated Press

It's not hard to decipher a pattern in Georgia's 2015 football recruiting class.  Sixteen of 25 current commitments or early enrollees play on the defensive side of the ball.  Compared to recent Bulldog history, that's a heavy weighting.

Defensive Recruiting Numbers
YearRecruiting Class SizeDefensive PlayersPercent Playing Defense
2015251664%
201421838%
2013342059%
201221838%
2011201260%
247Sports.com, includes all enrollees and signees.

Georgia, it appears, is banking on a defensive emphasis yielding championships, and that gamble is so un-crazy it just might work.

The concept of defense winning championships is not a new one.  To the contrary, it's one of the most trite sayings in all of sport.  But in an era in which offenses dominate college football and points abound, there's some risk in prioritizing defensive players above offensive play-makers who can turn an inch of open space into six points.

But Georgia is putting its money where its mouth is, according to recent salary reports.  Per Seth Emerson of Columbus' Ledger-Enquirer, defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt's recent contract extension will pay him $1.3 million per season.  On the other side of the ball, new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer will earn $950,000 annually.

Combine a financial spending pattern that seems to favor the defense and an abnormally high ratio of defensive players in this year's recruiting class, and the hope is that leadership and a deep talent pool will yield immediate and lasting results.  But how does that happen?

First, and perhaps most obviously, several of Georgia's defensive recruits must make early impacts.  

Lorenzo Carter (7) made an impact as a true freshman in 2014.
Lorenzo Carter (7) made an impact as a true freshman in 2014.Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Last year, Lorenzo Carter (a 5-star defensive end) and Dominick Sanders (an unheralded 3-star recruit) made waves as true freshmen, but a number of expected stars struggled to find a spot in the lineup.  

Injuries kept Malkom Parrish (a 4-star cornerback) from joining the rotation in the secondary until late in the season.  Meanwhile 4-star defensive standouts Keyon Brown and Lamont Gaillard failed to see playing time altogether.

The window for winning a championship is always slim, and the Bulldogs cannot afford to miss out on the services of elite prospects in 2015.  In particular, Georgia must find run-stopping support from the newest members of its front seven.

Trent Thompson, the nation's top overall player, according to the 247Sports Composite, must play right away and contend for a starting spot at defensive tackle from day one.  

Early enrollees and Top 100 prospects (per the 247Sports Composite) Jonathan Ledbetter and Natrez Patrick must take full advantage of an extra semester of preparation time by buying into the strength and conditioning program and finding ways to break into a rotation that is already flush with talented pass-rushers.

Stopping the run was the biggest weakness for Georgia in 2014, and all three of the Bulldogs' losses showcased this fault.  Pruitt's hope is that his seven new defensive linemen and three new linebackers can help plug some gaps.

If that comes to fruition with the help of early contributions from this class, and secondary depth continues to improve with the likes of Rashad Roundtree (the fifth-best safety in the class, per the 247Sports Composite), the defense could be a point of differentiation for the Bulldogs for the first time in years.

Sanders is proof that even unheralded recruits can contribute in Pruitt's system immediately.
Sanders is proof that even unheralded recruits can contribute in Pruitt's system immediately.Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

And the beauty of early-contributing defensive players is the carried-over value of their experience as they mature and establish tenure.  Carter and Sanders will be beacons of the 2015 defense and potential All-Americans in 2016 if they continue to improve.  The same could be true for a host of players in this 2015 recruiting class, and that level of early development extends the window for championship contention.

Right now, this defense is known primarily for the presence of speedy outside pass-rushers like Jordan Jenkins and Leonard Floyd.  As such, those are the guys that seem inclined to step up if the defense becomes championship-worthy.  But that could change very quickly if players like Thompson, Ledbetter, Patrick and Roundtree make an immediate impact.  

And that change wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing.  After all, strong showings from these incoming freshmen doesn't automatically signify disappointing performances from proven veterans.

Georgia head coach Mark Richt praised Pruitt for his first season in Athens when he discussed the coordinator's recent raise.

"It's important that we solidify his tenure at Georgia and continue to build our defense in all areas including recruiting, coaching and player development," Richt added, according to Mike Herndon of AL.com.

Pruitt's tenure has been solidified.  The defense is being built through recruiting.  This program is right on track for championship contention, at least on the defensive side of the ball.

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand and all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.com.

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