Signing Day a sucess for Richt and Dawgs

Mark Richt

ATHENS — Mark Richt milked a little drama out of Georgia's National Signing Day on Wednesday, but it was tough.

Richt held onto a signed letter of intent from Plantation, Fla., defensive tackle Jeffrey Owens for an hour before revealing it to about 300 fans gathered at the Butts-Mehre building to watch the day'sactivities. Owens had been verbally committed to the Bulldogs, but flirted heavily with Florida State in the last few days.

"That's a real good catch, too" said Tom Lemming, an ESPN.com analyst and the publisher of Prep Football Report. "It was a huge year for nose tackle-type guys. Any normal year, he would have been the superstar. He's still a powerhouse guy, who I think can contribute as a freshman."

Owens' signing capped off a defense-heavy class that is considered one of the nation's best. Overall, the Bulldogs signed 19 players. Thirteen of them are expected to play on the defensive side of the ball.

"I don't know if you can call it a home run, but it feels like a home run to me right now," Richt said. "We hit all the needs we were going after. We just had more needs on the defensive side of the ball."

The Bulldogs had signed letters in hand from all their players by 10:30 a.m., making for an anticlimatic afternoon. That was fine with Richt.

"Everything went as planned today, which is boring for some people, but it was just right for me," he said.

"That's a little unusual," recruiting coordinator Rodney Garner said, "but it's a testament to the type of young men we were able to sign. They held true. I know some of them took visits (after committing), but they never seemed to waver."

Even Owens didn't cost the coaches much sleep.

"He never wavered on his commitment to us," Garner said. "He was saying he was always committed and always a Dog."

The only disappointment of the day came on the offensive side of the ball when tackle Duke Robinson signed with Oklahoma after considering the Sooners and Bulldogs until the last minute. Robinson's decision leaves Georgia with just one offensive lineman in this class.

"If you have to say a negative about this class, that's a negative," said Scout.com recruiting analyst Jamie Newberg. "That's the only knock on this class. I would have liked to see them sign a couple tackles."

The lack of offensive linemen didn't hurt Georgia in the national rankings. As of Tuesday evening, the Bulldogs' class was rated third by Scout.com, eighth by Rivals.com and eighth by Lemming.

"I think it's an outstanding class," Lemming said. "I wasn't surprised by the (number of) defensive signings. That's where they needed their help."

The outside rankings didn't have any effect on the Bulldogs' opinion of their class. They got only players who they considered the cream of the crop, Garner said.

"I guess we'll see what kind of talent evaluators we are because we never got to a B-list player," he said. "Every player on this list is an A-list guy."

The marquee position of the class is defensive line, where the Bulldogs signed five players, including Owens, Parade Magazine All-American Kade Weston, Georgia Class AAAAA defensive player of the year Roderick Battle, Superprep All-American Brandon Sesay and Corey Moon, considered one of the top 20 defensive ends in the country by Rivals.com.

"We feel like we were able to attract some quality defensive linemen from top to bottom," Garner, who was doubly happy Wednesday because he's also the defensive line coach.

The group that all defensive line classes are compared to is Alabama's 2000 class, which featured eight defensive linemen, including the infamous Albert Means, said Lemming.

"And that class didn't turn out because a lot of the kids didn't play for (Alabama)," Lemming said. "It shows you how things can play into it. Only one or two of them ever made it. That was the class everybody talked about with defensive linemen, but this one is a very, very good defensive line class."

Safety CJ Byrd and cornerback Bryan Evans are the biggest non-linemen defensive catches for the Bulldogs. Byrd is considered one of the nation's top four safeties by both Lemming and Scout.com. Evans was a USA Today second-team All-USA player.

Linebacker Tavares Kearney may be the defensive sleeper of the class. Many schools backed off him due to academic concerns, but he has made a qualifying test score. Georgia also signed linebackers Marcus Washington out of Burke County and Jamar Chaney out of Ft. Pierce, Fla.

Shortly after Richt announced Owens' signing to the Georgia faithful, Chaney called Richt to tell him he was faxing his letter. Even he had questions about Owens.

"Yeah, Jeff Owens' stuff came in," Richt said into his cellphone.

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