Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Offensive line recruiting - perpetuating the pattern

**First, a disclaimer. This is the first of only two posts I will have on recruiting. I usually hit the topic pretty hard with updates from December until Signing Day. I'll get into why there won't be that kind of coverage here going forward in a post scheduled for tomorrow, most likely. But if you've followed recruiting here you already know there are other blogs that devote more time and space to it, and to be quite honest do a much better job with it. So at least you won't be missing the next live bulldog puppy unveiling. :)**

Recruiting opened back up last Thursday. Currently, Georgia has 17 commitments and is zeroing in on some big targets between now and February 5th. Indications are we could see somewhere around 20-22 new signatures. As usual, Richt already has a stellar class in place, headlined by running back standouts Sony Michel and Nick Chubb.

The concern with this post is who will block for those guys; more specifically, the focus and attention (or lack thereof) being put into recruiting the "big uglies" that make the holes and provide the protection for the "stat breakers".

Last month we looked at a possible 2014 depth chart for the returning offensive linemen:

When you look at that chart class-wise, it's perfectly proportioned with four sophomores, four juniors and four seniors. The question that has steadily and consistently wore on during Richt's tenure is - but are they perfectly proportioned depth and talent-wise? As we've discussed before, if there's an achilles heel to Coach Richt's time in Athens it is the offensive line. A position group plagued by numerous maladies - injuries, lack of depth, Mark Emmert's fascination with Kolton Houston's urine samples, mysterious hands in cookie jars, arcane admission rules regarding immigrated students, and other departures for greener pastures - the offensive line at Georgia hasn't realized its true and lasting potential in quite some time.

The problems have been so varied and widespread, even when the offensive line performs well, fans are quick to wonder if it's just a running back's skills that are making them look good. Sure enough, a Knowshon Moreno leaves or a Todd Gurley succumbs to injury and the holes that were once there dry up just as quickly. December comes and we all get fixated on the athletic, leaner names again...the next huge potential signee that could break all the records...forgetting the lack of true rotation in the offensive front. A cursory glance is given the big guys on the board, then the focus turns to whether this five star running back will cross the border or whether the Georgia coaches can sway that incredible defensive end that would be a difference maker off the edge.

Important pieces, sure. No question. But what about those guys up front? Do we have a target on the board that could be developed into a future first round NFL tackle? Do we have a commitment from a kid that might be an All-SEC guard for three years?

In so many ways, fans are as much to blame as the coaches perhaps. After all, there's nothing sexy and ESPNU All Access about a 300 pound behemoth. Is there?

But here's the crux of the problem, and in all honesty it goes beyond the Richt era. The University of Georgia doesn't produce All American type talent on the offensive line. In fact, since the Bulldogs' last National Title game there have only been four total - Strozier ('77), M. Stinchcomb ('97 '98), J. Stinchcomb ('02) and Jean-Gilles ('05). By comparison, Alabama has had four since 2009. 

Speaking of which brings me to this piece by recruiting analyst Jeremy Crabtree where the Crimson Tide are crowned Offensive Line U. There's an inherent danger in too many comparisons to other programs, but take this quote...
"There's an expectation that few other places have," Robinson said. "I didn't want to go someplace and have zero expectations. I always thought I thrived on stress, and being an offensive tackle at Alabama, there is plenty of it."
That's from five-star offensive tackle prospect Cameron Robinson out of West Monroe LA. Now, we weren't going to get Robinson's signature. This isn't about missing out on him as a prospect. It's about a change in culture when it comes to recruiting for the offensive line (in both quantity and quality) and developing them into SEC caliber players.

Is there "stress" at UGA about competing for spots at tackle? At guard? Do veterans feel pushed each and every snap? Can we go two or three deep at each spot if necessary? Will we ever come close to the problem Saban enjoys of just putting in the next Andre Smith or DJ Fluker or Barrett Jones or Cyrus Kouandijo. Hell, the Crimson Tide even loses offensive line position coaches and they still don't miss a beat as far as developing top notch talent and high draft picks.

And that's where it speaks to recruiting. I could sit here and say we don't offer the right guys or that we offer the wrong guys, but the truth is I don't really know. However it's obvious that we don't bring in enough ready and able bodies for the wear and tear of the positions that defend against these future NFL pass rushing monsters. When we're relying on a guy to start the season opener at right tackle who hasn't played a down of football in three years, that's just self-imposed insanity.

So where are we now? We have four guys committed in Kendall Baker, Dyshon Sims, Jake Edwards
and Isaiah Wynn. Of those four, two are prospective guards (Edwards and Wynn) and two are expected to mature into tackles (Baker and Sims). All four are highly thought of in recruiting circles. It's always hard to say how much an offensive lineman could possibly contribute as a freshman considering the learning curve and the usual need for added, well proportioned weight, but it's reasonable to expect all four to push for playing time by this time next year at the latest.

All in all, four talented, highly recruited guys that want to play in Athens. And I'd take four more just like them, along with 12 more like the guys already in that depth chart. Unfortunately, most believe Georgia is done recruiting offensive line for this year's class. Like we said earlier, you need guys that can make the plays; athletic young men that can make a move, stretch out for an acrobatic catch and find another gear to take the ball to the endzone. But you also need big, athletic, rugged human bodies down in the trenches that make those plays possible from the snap of the ball. A lot of them.

So as I steer away from covering recruiting here, I'd just like to throw two more pennies in the well - Georgia needs a more focused, direct approach at getting and developing offensive linemen capable of the rigor the SEC provides. Right now, we're not there. We're just perpetuating the pattern that's been in Athens for a very long time.