ATHENS -- Barely a month ago, it was obvious that Georgia’s football team needed a talent infusion, and before the Bulldogs sat a board of recruiting targets. Over the course of the next five weeks, Mark Richt and his staff essentially ran the table.
A tailback that could start right away? Isaiah Crowell, signed.
A big, physical nose tackle? John Jenkins, signed.
A star edge-rusher to potentially replace Justin Houston, who left for the NFL? Ray Drew, signed.
There were also dynamic athletes who could contribute right away: cornerback Damian Swann, receiver-defensive back Malcolm Mitchell, tight end Jay Rome.
By the time Jenkins, a junior college transfer, signed Saturday, Georgia had moved into a top five national class. The Bulldogs may have won February, but how many wins does it perhaps translate into in the fall months?
Crowell received the most interest, given the Bulldogs’ running game woes. But Jenkins may have been a bigger signing. Georgia, in its first year of Todd Grantham’s 3-4 defense, started the undersized DeAngelo Tyson at nose tackle. Now with the 6-foot-4, 340-pound Jenkins on board, Grantham can plug Jenkins in the middle and move Tyson to end.
“We’re really excited about Johnathan joining our football team,” Grantham said. “I feel like it’ll help us address a need up front. Obviously we’re gonna plug him in with what we’ve got.”
Grantham said Jenkins will make “an immediate impact.” But he won’t be alone.
Last year’s signing class, which was much lower-rated by the recruiting experts, saw just a total of 14 starts -- Alec Ogletree five games and junior college transfer Jakar Hamilton five each at safety and Kenarious Gates four at guard. A total of seven true freshmen played in a total of 48 games last year.
This year promises to be a different story, partly out of quality, but also necessity.
Drew, the team’s highest-rated recruit, is likely to replace Houston at weakside linebacker. Sterling Bailey could figure as an edge-rusher, too.
Swann, Nick Marshall and Corey Moore could see action in the secondary. Amarlo Herrera, Kent Turene and Ramik Wilson could get time at inside linebacker.
“I feel like we addressed the needs in recruiting,” Grantham said. “I think when you can mesh those guys together, I think that we’re getting closer to what we want to have out there.”
On the offensive side, Crowell gets the most attention, but there is other help on the way.
Malcolm Mitchell, who can play receiver or cornerback, could help fill the void left by the departures of receivers A.J. Green and Logan Gray.
Rome, rated by many the nation’s top tight end prospect, is behind the experienced Orson Charles and Aron White. But Richt has indicated that they may find room for Rome to play, given his talent.
The team also signed six offensive linemen, headlined by Zach DeBell and Watts Dantzler. The returns of Cordy Glenn and Trinton Sturdivant, who passed on the NFL, may allow the freshmen to redshirt.
That remains to be seen. What is known is that Richt, under fire from fans after the first losing season in 14 years, will go into the spring months with fans in a better mood -- thanks to recruiting.
“We quite frankly didn’t have a great Plan B this year,” Richt said Sunday on WSB radio. “We just said we’re going for it. The great majority of them came, so it was an awesome finish.”