- Edward Aschoff, ESPN Staff Writer
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ATHENS, Ga. -- As Mark Richt strolled up to his jet black podium to address the media about Georgia’s 2015 signing class, there didn’t appear to be a hint of angst. Richt, as laid back a coach as you'll find, simply slid to the front of the room, bright lights beaming down on behind him, and happily discussed yet another top-10 class for the Bulldogs.
"We are absolutely thrilled about these young men and can't wait to see them do their thing,” Richt said. “Some of them are already here doing their thing a little bit.”
It was easy for Richt grin ear-to-ear and have some enthusiasm in his voice. Outside of some afternoon theatrics, Richt and his crew had a pretty stress-free day in Athens. Thanks to a stellar and steady recruiting effort from the start, Georgia had most of its class secured in the morning. By 10 a.m., the Dawgs had already secured 22 signees (eight early enrollees). At the end of the day, Georgia had signed 29 players, 18 of which were four-star players or better, including 14 ESPN 300 members
Richt, who has been criticized in the past for not keeping top players at home, had little problem securing in-state talent, as the top-seven players in this class hailed from the state of Georgia, including No. 2 overall defensive tackle -- and five-star stud -- Trenton Thompson, and No. 5 athlete Terry Godwin.
Despite a couple of late flips and the continuing saga of four-star linebacker Roquan Smith and his decision, the Dawgs made out quite well on national signing day. They even concluded the day with the unnecessarily theatrical signing from Godwin, who prolonged his ceremony until 6 p.m. ET, for, you know, dramatic effect.
While there was no real early drama for the Dawgs, this class hit on the necessary needs. In a year in which Georgia unflatteringly came in second in the SEC Eastern Division, rumors swirled and intensified about Richt’s coaching future, and long-time offensive coordinator Mike Bobo left to become the head coach at Colorado State, Georgia didn’t miss a recruiting beat.
No, the Dawgs coasted to a signing day finish line without many bumps or bruises, and could still land another big fish in Smith to cap off the school’s fifth straight top-10 recruiting class, and seventh in the past eight years.
Where Georgia really struck gold was with its defensive line class. With just five scholarship linemen returning, Richt and his crew went out and signed six players destined for the defensive line. Two -- defensive tackle Jonathan Ledbetter, a four-star who flipped from Alabama, and four-star defensive end Michael Barnett -- enrolled early, giving Georgia more room to rotate up front this spring.
“You've got to have the beef up front, both sides of the ball,” Richt said. “You've got to have guys that can command double teams. You've got to have guys that can hopefully put pressure on a quarterback without having to bring blitzes and things of that nature, guys that can be stout in their run gap responsibilities and not get pushed around. It's truly important to have the big men up front. I think we did a good job there."
And the thing about this defensive line haul is that it’s both quantity and quality. With so little depth coming back up front, it was imperative that Georgia’s staff go out and sign quality numbers. Georgia did just that, and might have landed the nation’s best defensive line class.
“I’m pretty glad that we’re known as one of the best defensive line groups,” Barnett said. “Hopefully, it pans out that way, as the season comes along. I’m just happy to be a part of that group.”
The headliner is Thompson, who should push for immediate playing time when he gets on campus. The 6-foot-4, 311-pound monster in the middle was a critical piece to Georgia’s class, and Richt wasn’t shy about gushing over Thompson’s talents.
“Trent is a big, massive man who has got great agility,” Richt said. “If you meet him, he's just the nicest guy you ever want to meet, but when he's playing ball, he gets after it. He's just got tremendous quickness for a big man, changes direction, plays very hard, and I think probably the reason why he got rated as high as he did is when you start taking these guys and bringing them to all‑star games or combines or whatever and you start letting them compete with some of the best, the word I got from some of those kids in those situations were like, the guy just was very difficult to handle by anybody.”
And the hope in Athens is that adding a class like this will increase the Dawgs’ chances of being difficult to handle this fall. With the East still littered with questions, Georgia once again has the talent to take the division. Getting out of its own way appears to be Georgia’s biggest obstacle, but the new guys are noticing a fiery attitude early and bitterness toward last season.
“When I talk to [teammates] I get chills,” JUCO linebacker transfer Chuks Amaechi said. “When they talk, you can hear it in their voices that they’re hungry for a championship.”
246dTom Van Haaren