ATHENS - During their signing day news conference, Georgia recruiting coordinator Rodney Garner at one point predicted there would be some “roster management” coming with all the versatile defensive players who had signed.
Head coach Mark Richt, sitting to Garner’s right, said he knew he would get asked a follow-up about that – and he was, but he didn’t follow up with any specifics.
As it turns out, the first dose of that roster management was not the positive kind.
The fairly stunning news that Georgia has dismissed not one but three freshmen on Friday has led to plenty of questions. That goes especially for the secondary. Unfortunately, Richt and his staff are unavailable for the foreseeable future, so we are left to speculate for now.
And to be fair, Richt and company are probably still giving this time to digest, and they have at least a month before spring practice starts and they have to make any firm adjustments – or “roster management.”
Here are some questions that arise given the departures of Chris Sanders, Nick Marshall and Sanford Seay, and one reporter’s stab at answers:
What did Richt know, and when did he know it?
The speculation is that the news was held until after signing day. I don't know. I can only say that I first got wind of the possibility on Thursday, and spent the better part of the afternoon and evening trying to nail it down. My reporting indicates that at least Seay was aware he was in trouble as of Thursday, but it only got finalized on Friday morning.
Does this call into question Georgia not signing more than 19 recruits?
Not really, in my opinion.
Keep in mind the issue now in the secondary isn’t having enough bodies. It’s having enough quality bodies. Those carping at Richt for not filling up the signing class aren’t being realistic unless they have specific players who could help this program. Perhaps at receiver, a prospect like Charlie Hegedus, headed for N.C. State, will come back to haunt the Bulldogs. But Geno Smith, the top-level defensive back committed to Alabama, was never a possibility.
The type of player who gets a late offer is normally a player like Seay. And look how that turned out. A guy like Tim Jennings (offered late in 2002, now in the NFL) is a rare one. Two years ago Kenarious Gates was a late addition, but he was committed to Kentucky, so it’s not like he was out of nowhere.
This team has at least been able to make use of walk-ons, such as Blake Sailors, Brandon Harton, Jeremy Sulek, Connor Norman, Taylor Bradberry and Rhett McGowan. All of them contributed last year. Frankly, I’m not sure any high school senior or junior college player getting an offer a day or two before signing day would end up being an immediate upgrade over those guys.
What does this mean for the 2012 team?
It hurts depth, and if there are injuries – or Sanders Commings has to miss significant time – then it will be bad.
But it’s mitigated by the fact that Seay wasn’t going to be a factor at receiver, and the five secondary “starters” are not affected. Shawn Williams and Bacarri Rambo are the safeties, and when three corners are on the field they are set to be Commings, Branden Smith and Damian Swann.
As far as this upcoming season, depth is the problem. Marshall and Sanders were candidates to see more playing time. Now, Georgia has to hope Sheldon Dawson (the signee from Tennessee) is very good, and that Devin Bowman improves. Or Quintavious Harrow can be as good on defense as he is on special teams. Or someone like Norman or Sailors can continue to step in.
What does it mean for 2013 and beyond?
On that account, it’s pretty major.
Sanders and Marshall had a chance to be starters, or at least play a lot. Swann, who will be a junior in ’13, is at least set at cornerback. Corey Moore seems an heir apparent at safety. Then you've got Dawson and Bowman, and the potential 2013 signees.
The team does have a commitment from one high school junior, Tray Matthews, and you can bet they will signing at least five defensive backs in the ’13 class. Five at minimum.
Could Malcolm Mitchell move to cornerback?
I’m still skeptical. Why take perhaps your best playmaker on offense and put him on defense, merely for depth? The only option I could see as feasible would be to move Mitchell there and have him play offense in spot duty like Smith and Brandon Boykin have done. But I still think that’s robbing Peter to pay Paul. Georgia also only signed one receiver in this class, so moving Mitchell to defense would leave you with some depth issues over there too.
If Georgia had signed Cordarelle Patterson and/or Jaquay Williams, I could have seen it as more of a possibility. But they went elsewhere.
Still, I've learned not to rule out anything. Todd Grantham surely would love to have Mitchell, who was initially recruited as a cornerback out of Valdosta. But Mike Bobo and Tony Ball want him too. And Richt, when asked about it before the Outback Bowl, pretty much laughed it off.
So, any other ideas?
Grantham always has a few things up his sleeve, like last year when Alec Ogletree moved from safety to inside linebacker. Grantham has said many times he’ll move guys week to week based on matchups.
Also, don’t underestimate the possibility of putting off decisions for a year. As I’ve said, the top five in the secondary is still intact. So the plan could be just to get through 2012, and then make adjustments for 2013.
What’s the most cynical, ironic statement one can make about all this?
For all the rumors, three freshmen have been dismissed from the team – and none of them were named Isaiah Crowell.