They weren’t as hyped or as large in numbers and didn’t have the flashy nickname of the recruiting class that preceded them.
When all is said and done, though, Georgia’s most recent signing class just might surpass the “Dream Team” when it comes down to production.
Consider before they even debut on Saturday against Buffalo, five members of the 2012 Bulldogs class seem poised to have key roles.
John Theus is expected to start at right offensive tackle, Marshall Morgan
is in line to be the top kicker and Collin Barber the No. 1 punter.
Tailback Todd Gurley just might lead the Bulldogs in rushing this season and speedy Keith Marshall is set to get his share of carries in the Bulldogs’ tailback rotation.
Outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins, safety Josh Harvey-Clemons and fullback Quayvon Hicks are also expected to contribute early in their careers.
Even the marquee remaining player from last year’s class can see this year’s bunch has a chance to be better.
“Ooh, I do,” cornerback/receiver Malcolm Mitchell said. “A lot of us are gone.”
Star tailback Isaiah Crowell was one and done with the Bulldogs after his felony weapons arrest this summer. Nick Marshall, Sanford Seay and Chris Sanders were dismissed after a reported dorm theft incident this winter and Quintavious Harrow left in an academically-related departure.
“We still have a couple here still standing strong,” Mitchell said. “I love my class and I don’t want to put anybody before them, but they do have some great players that are going to step in and help for some of the mistakes that my class made.”
Georgia coach Mark Richt said on signing day 2011 that he expected the “Dream Team” class to be the “most talented and best bunch,” he’s had, but now he says this one has a chance to be better.
“It could, it could,” he said. “It’s not as big, but we do feel like every single guy has got what it takes to play in this league. Does that mean they’re ready game one or season one? I don’t know. A lot of them will play this year and help us. You can look at any one of them if they don’t play a lot or redshirt, it doesn’t mean they’re not capable of doing it.”
Crowell, who famously lifted a bulldog puppy when he made his signing day announcement, played his part in turning around the Bulldogs after a losing season. He led Georgia with 850 rushing yards last season, but was twice suspended before he was dismissed.
“I can’t speak for everybody, but I know I will not get in trouble, being suspended or anything like that,” Marshall said. “I think me and Todd will make sure to keep each other out of trouble. We have a good group of freshmen.”
Of the 17 signees this year that made it to campus, at least 12 are expected to play. That’s one fewer that played among the 24 signees that made it to campus in 2011.
Only quarterback Faton Bauta, offensive lineman Greg Pyke, nose guard Jonathan Taylor and linebacker James DeLoach from this class seem headed for redshirt seasons. Receiver Blake Tibbs appears on the fence.
The 2011 class has produced its share of starters and frontline players: Mitchell, junior college transfer nose guard John Jenkins, center David Andrews, linebacker Amarlo Herrera, receiver Chris Conley, cornerback Damian Swann and linebacker Ramik Wilson.
Nobody in the “Dream Team” class except for Crowell was more high-profile than Ray Drew, the defensive end from Thomasville who became a celebrity of sorts during the recruiting process. Drew was not only a five-star player, but is a licensed minister.
He had eight tackles in seven games last season and missed some practice time this preason with a concussion,
“Ray just needs to work on football, keep working to improve in all areas of football. That would be the best thing,” defensive line coach Rodney Garner said early this preseason. “Every day that he comes out there, he needs to focus on getting better and not worry about all that other stuff. Not worry about what y’all write about him. Not worry about this `Minister of Defense’ or `Pastor of Disaster’ and all that. Just work on becoming a better football player.”
Drew is set to play a backup role at end.
“I see exactly where he’s coming from,” Drew said. “Trying to live up to someone’s expectations and live up to the hype of everything can actually be a two-edged sword. You can come in and it can motivate you and it can also tear you down at the same time because you put so much pressure on yourself trying to live up to everything instead of just coming in and focusing on what you need to do and improve as a player from where you are now.”
Drew said he couldn’t remember the last time he heard the phrase “Dream Team,” except with comparisons to this year’s U.S. Olympic basketball team.
He sees this year’s class stacking up well or perhaps turning out better than his class.
“Absolutely,” he said. “We’ve got guys coming in and making statements at practice this year.”
Then he listed some.
“Marshall Morgan or Morgan Marshall,” Drew said laughing. “He’s doing a heck of a job. So is Jordan Jenkins and Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall. All of those guys are just making tremendous impacts.”
Said Mitchell: “These freshmen will ball.”