Georgia Tech Recruiting Review - DB

With National Signing Day over and Georgia Tech's recruiting class completed, is taking a position-by-position look at the 2007 recruiting class. Today, we will look at cornerbacks and safeties.

Defensive Back

New Additions (5):
Jerrard Tarrant, D.J. Donley, Morgan Burnett, Michael Peterson, Mario Butler

Depth Chart:
CB: Jahi Word-Daniels, Tony Clark (LB?), Dominique Reese, Mario Butler
CB: Patrick Clark/Laurence Marius, Michael Peterson
SS: Jamal Lewis, Joe Gaston, Martin Frierson, D.J. Donley (WR?), Jerrard Tarrant
FS: Djay Jones (inj), Avery Roberson, Jake Blackwood, DeRon Jasper, Morgan Burnett

Position Needs:
There are some bodies returning to these positions but the group is really showing some age. The two-deep is full of seniors and juniors. Clark, Lewis, Gaston, Jones and Roberson are all rising seniors, while Word-Daniels and Tony Clark are rising juniors. If the coaches wanted to be proactive with these positions, they'd bring in a good catch with this class and not have to fill in key positions with true freshmen in 2008. You also have to take into account that two were leaving through graduation. One was a seldom used backup in Sam Williams but the other is going to possibly be very difficult to replace in Kenny Scott. Scott will likely be playing on Sundays next. I'm sure NFL practices for Kenny won't be any harder than they were at Tech seeing that he had to cover Calvin Johnson every day.

Spring Practice Report:
As we've seen initially in spring practice, Kenny Scott may indeed be missed. There is a scramble to find his replacement. Jahi Word-Daniels, though inconsistent still, has seemingly locked up one of the corner positions. Meanwhile Patrick Clark and Laurence Marius are jockeying for the starter position. One will make Coach Tenuta mad, get pulled, then the other will be starting the next day. That's kind of how it's been so far. Rounding out the competition at corner for spring is Dominique Reese and Tony Clark. I see both making more contributions on special teams for now than at corner. [Tony Clark is now being given a look at linebacker.]

At safety we still return a pretty good unit. You'd love to have three more of Jamal Lewis type players but he's certainly the leader and the anchor of this group. Djay Jones is the other returning starter but he's out for spring with an injury. Though he played well at times last year, he needs more reps show improvement. We'll have to wait until fall for that though. In his place, the versatile Avery Roberson is starting. He proved to be a valuable asset last season, being able to fill in at corner of safety. He was much like someone like Tony Clark in the past, only making contributions on special teams. It was nice last year to see Avery's hard work pay off in some playing time on the defense. I suspect he'll do a lot of that again in fall.

Another pleasant surprise is the return of fifth-year senior Joe Gaston. After playing in his first three years at GT, he missed last year with an injury. He's still getting back up to speed but Tenuta certainly loves having him back. Gaston or Roberson will play a good bit in nickel situations even if they are not starters next season.

Jake Blackwood is playing a good bit this spring. He's good in coverage but still doesn't appear to have gained any weight since he got on campus. He just seems a little slight to have a big impact in supporting the run defense and needs to improve his tackling.

Finally, Martin Frierson has moved over from wide receiver and has shown some promise to be a safety. He's got a nice frame and appears to be a physical defender.

Who GT signed:

D.J. Donley

Height: 6-5
Weight: 200
Home Town (High School): Folkston, GA (Charlton County HS)
Other offers included: Florida, Florida State, Georgia, South Carolina (Notre Dame showed strong interest)
Lead GT Recruiting Coach: Giff Smith Stars: **** State Ranking: 7 Southeastern Ranking: 33 National Ranking by Position: 14 (S) National Ranking (Regardless of Position): 95

Could DJ be the next freakishly athletic star at Georgia Tech? Let's put it this way, there has been an on going debate among Tech fans whether he could be a first year impact player at wide receiver or safety. Or could he possibly a linebacker down the road? There are plenty of opinions on the subject (see some great ones below from Kennedy & Newberg) but the ones that will eventually matter are those of the coaching staff. I have confirmed since I began the recruiting reports that Donley will indeed began his GT career as a wide receiver, though analyst still think his best long term position is safety or outside linebacker. Not only do some think he should play defense, some feel he's an NFL-potential talent down the road as a defender.

Let's see what D.J. has said about which side of the ball he wants to line up on. Donley told Allen Wallace back in June, "Some schools are recruiting me as a safety, but I prefer wide receiver because I like having the ball in my hands. As a wide receiver, I have the opportunity to play with the ball in my hands much more than if I were a safety," Donley said.

If that didn't convince you, here's more from Wallace's June 23rd article with Donley. "I'm tall for a wide receiver, and it helps with intimidation and catching the ball. I do mis-matches and if I'm up against a small guy, my height intimidates him. I'm also good at running routes. My cousin (William McCrae) is a Div II wide receiver, and he taught me to be a good route runner. He said it would really get me somewhere, and it has. Right now I'm trying to work on my speed by running with a parachute and doing running drills. I want to get my forty-time down to a 4.4," Donley said.

So he wants to basically physically dominate and intimidate smaller opponents and wants to get his forty down to 4.4. Does he think he's the next Calvin? This quote gives you some insight on what he was thinking before he committed GT and some good insight on why he chose the Jackets.

"Georgia Tech has a wide receiver, Calvin Johnson, who's going to be drafted by the NFL. They told me I could play as a true freshman. I went to their Junior Day and then back to visit last weekend (June 10). I like that it's in the capital, Atlanta. Being from a small town, I like the idea of living in a big city." he said.

Not sure if he'll be another Calvin (I wouldn't put that on anyone) but you do get the impression that Donley is a special talent. I don't think there will be any thoughts about redshirting DJ in his freshman year.

Recruiting Analyst Scott Kennedy on D.J. Donley:
"Never heard of him [Are you sure Scott? Defense Donley, Defense! ]…

He's probably the best defensive player in the state this year. Allen Bailey is right there but I think as far as actually playing and the impact that he's had on games on the defensive side of the ball, it's hard to argue with D.J. Donley. I haven't talked to him in a long time to know how stuck he is on wide receiver but he's a defensive player. I mean, he plays defense like he loves it. I think we list at safety but he has the frame to be an outside linebacker. He's an outside linebacker extraordinaire in college. He can do everything. He can rush the passer. He can drop into coverage. The guy he reminds me the most of, who actually played a little at safety before moving to linebacker fulltime and then being a first round draft pick is Carlos Dansby, who also was recruited as a wide receiver initially."

Recruiting Analyst Jamie Newberg on D.J. Donley (from June 13, 2006):
"D.J. Donley is a safety/wide receiver from Folkston (Ga.) Charlton County High School. Donley, 6-3 and 195 pounds, projects as a strong safety or outside linebacker at the next level. As a safety he is fearless, aggressive and a big hitter. Donley has good range, good closing speed and is a sound tackler. Overall, he supports the run very well. Against the pass, he shows excellent timing on the ball and good coverage skills. Donley is an intriguing prospect because of his combination of size, speed and athleticism. He certainly has the frame to add a lot of weight and be a big safety or outside linebacker in college."

#17 DJ Donley - SR - State Semis

Scouting Video 2 - Jr. Year #17 WR/S

Combine Video Interview

#17 S/WR D.J. Donley - JR - DIG

Morgan Burnett

Height: 6-1
Weight: 185
Home Town (High School): College Park, GA (North Clayton HS)
Other offers included: Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia Tech
Lead GT Recruiting Coach: Brian Jean-Mary Stars: **** State Ranking: 16 Southeastern Ranking: 19 National Ranking by Position: 20 (S)
Other Honors: AJC super 11

Landing Morgan was sweet icing on the recruiting cake for Tech fans. Not only did we add another 4-star athlete in this great talent injection this class has been for Tech but he's a player you kept away from your biggest rival. Not only did Morgan pick Tech over Georgia (among other southern powers) but he's a UGA legacy. His brother Cap was a defensive back for Georgia. But Cap gave Morgan his blessings to choose either school and Morgan chose the Jackets because he fit in perfectly with this class in terms of personality and talent. As for which side of the ball he'll play, he appears to be heading to safety initially, though Scott Kennedy makes a compelling argument below on a possible future position change. Burnett is another good example of the type of athlete Tech needs to sign to bring the program up to the next level.

Recruiting Analyst Scott Kennedy on Morgan Burnett:
Morgan Burnett's a three-year starter at quarterback at North Clayton High. I had him listed as a safety but I don't know if he's physical enough to play safety. But I know he's tall enough and he's a good enough athlete to be an asset on the offensive side of the ball. So I actually think he's going to end up being a wide receiver in college. He's a tall kid that can really run, a fluid athlete… that's Morgan. Morgan's a good pickup for Georgia Tech. But I think his future is a wide receiver at Georgia Tech.

Recruiting Analyst Jamie Newberg on Morgan Burnett (from May 24, 2006):
"Morgan Burnett is a safety prospect from College Park (Ga.) North Clayton High School. Burnett, 6-2 and 190 pounds, also stars as the high school quarterback. He has good size and speed for the safety position. Burnett can support the run very well and he can line up in the box and provide support from deep in the hole. Once he reads run he finds the ball very quickly and shows good fundamentals in tackling. Burnett plays the pass well too and is the guy you want as the last line of defense. It also helps Burnett that he plays quarterback because it gives him a great understanding of the safety position and what an offense will try and do."

#1 ATH Morgan Burnett - SR - DIG

IN FOCUS VIDEO: Morgan Burnett vs. Northside

QB/S Morgan Burnett - SO - DIG

Mario Butler

Height: 6-2
Weight: 180
Home Town (High School): Jacksonville, FL (Nease HS)
Other offers included: Clemson, Louisville, Maryland, Ohio State, South Carolina, and Virginia Tech
Lead GT Recruiting Coach: Buddy Geis Stars: **** State Ranking: 62 National Ranking by Position: 42 (CB)

Mario is probably the most big-time player Tech landed in this class who is getting the least amount of hype. Everyone will point to names like Dwyer, Claytor, Donley and Nesbitt when talking about the big names from this class but I was told Butler was rated in the came tier with those guys and that he was our top initial target for corner. He's a big corner and has a reputation for being very physical. It will be interesting to see how long it takes for him to begin to challenge some of the smaller corners currently on the two-deep. I would look for him to at least be a big factor next season on special teams. You don't usually see big, physical, talented defensive backs redshirt in our system.

Recruiting Analyst Scott Kennedy on Mario Butler:
"Hard hitter… I haven't watched him in a while but I remember scouting him when we were first doing our rankings. I was impressed with the way he would support against the run. He's good in coverage but also very physical."

Southeast Select 7-on-7

#2 DB Mario Butler - JR - DIG

Jerrard Tarrant

Height: 6-0
Weight: 190
Home Town (High School): Carrollton, GA (Carrollton HS)
Other offers included: None – early commit (Auburn, Duke, Vanderbilt showed strong early interest)
Lead GT Recruiting Coach: Joe D'Alessandris Stars: *** State Ranking: 47 National Ranking by Position: 89 (CB)

This guy is close to being able to run for office in Carrollton. His high school is known for really playing some ball and has produced players like Reggie Brown who is now a WR in the NFL. As for Tarrant, people I've spoken to from Carrollton will swear by him. He was really under the radar to fans who follow recruiting but made a nice impression throughout the season and performed well in one of the state all-star games. As for his local reputation, I have a guy from Carrollton who works with me and would bring in a huge article on him from the local paper at least once per week. These people know football and really think he's a good one. I'm very interested to see how he looks as a Yellow Jacket this fall. It's probably a good thing we got on him early.

Recruiting Analyst Scott Kennedy on Jerrard Tarrant:
"He's another utility guy. He can do a little bit of everything; return kicks, returns punts. He can end up on offense or defense; one of those athlete types. He's one of those guys that you sign first and worry about where he fits in later because he can do a little bit of everything. He's good on defense. And the people around Carrolton raved about him as a player and a person all year. That was one of the first commitments and just a real good job of scouting and sniffing him out early. I'd put him at slot receiver if I could. I'd drop him in and try to get him the ball in space. I'd put him at slot receiver and returning kicks."

[A follow up question for Scott given his scouting reports] Looking at this class do you really see probably Willie White, Morgan Burnett, and Jerrard Tarrant all as wide receivers while Donley is likely to start off there as well?

"I do, I mean, that's where I think they'd be best. Now again it really depends on depth and where they're most needed. You see guys all the time that their best position might not be what they're playing but there's no one better than them either. So if Morgan Burnett, for example, ends up playing safety out of need because no one can beat him out then that makes Georgia Tech the best. Now he can still play safety. I just think if you throw depth charts out of the equation, his best position would be wide receiver."

#4 ATH Jerrard Tarrant - SR Highlights

#4 ATH Jerrard Tarrant - SR Highlights

#4 ATH Jerrard Tarrant - SR

Michael Peterson

Height: 5-11
Weight: 190
Home Town (High School): Tampa, FL (Jesuit HS)
Other offers included: Boston College, Clemson, and Vanderbilt
Lead GT Recruiting Coach: Brian Jean-Mary Stars: ** State Ranking: NR National Ranking by Position: NR (CB)

Just when we thought recruiting was over for the 2007 class, Tech fans found out about Michael Peterson. When ties were cut with formerly committed cornerback Cedric Everson (see more on that story below), Tech coaches wanted to bring in another cornerback. They had always kept in contact with Peterson, who they liked earlier but just didn't have a spot for at the time, even after he committed to conference foe Boston College. When Michael agreed to take an official visit to GT in the last week of the recruiting season, it seemed evident that he'd turn from BC. They saw it the same way and both sides agreed it wasn't going to work out there. Clemson was also trying to get Peterson to their campus but the Petersons really were most interested in GT. So Tech landed him to finish the 2007 class with a sort of surprise commit. Peterson continues an increasing list of players to suit up for GT from Tampa Jesuit that includes: A.J. Smith, George Godsey, Andrew Smith and Will Glover.

The one who got away:

Lorenzo Edwards

Lorenzo was one of the final players GT was waiting to fill out the class. In the end most think he was just paying lip service to the academic angle and his desire to major in Architecture. In the end he signed with football powerhouse Florida. For a while though it seemed like GT had a good shot at him. Personally I think he's going to be an outstanding football player and one we'll look back on and say we almost got him.

Another one who got away is Cedric Everson, though the story is not as simple as that. Tech coaches intentionally let him get away in the end. Cedric's recruiting was a bunch of ups and downs for those who followed every crazy turn. Cedric's father indicated all summer that he was close to committing but it never happened until late in the recruiting process. But that's where the drama started, not ended. There was the now infamous case of the "Iowa trip" that his father denied they took but later evidence overwhelmingly showed that was not the case. But those kinds of things happen and I think since Everson was supposed to be such a talented player, we looked the other way with assurances they were done looking. Then came the rumored issue with a foreign language class. Supposedly Cedric needed to take another semester of foreign language in order to get into GT (for other schools though, he had already taken the required amount of hours). Apparently, he refused to take the extra class and wanted some sort of exemption for it if he was going to come to Tech. By then I think it was clear that both sides just needed to part ways.

Besides the very visible recruiting efforts for Edwards and Everson, there were several other very talented defensive backs and defensive athlete types who Tech pursued. Others offered included: Dom DeCicco, TeJay Johnson, John Knox, Harrison Smith, Nick Sukay, Eric Berry, Addison Williams. I'm not sure if we ever came very close to many of those guys. Sukay was a name talked about a lot earlier in the process and we were a finalist for him.

Final Analysis:
Overall this group gets a big A+. What a super collection of talent and potential on this list. The other schools that offered the guys coming to Tech include just about any school worth mentioning in college football. The one thing that stands out with this group is their size. The smallest of the group is Peterson and he has a pretty standard build for a corner. The next thing I notice is the level of athleticism of the group in addition to some interesting individual stories. You have guys who have played high school quarterback, a legacy of our top rival, a small town phenom, a turncoat from a conference foe, and several of the guys could easily see the field on either side of the ball.

Thanks to Scott Kennedy, Jamie Newberg, Allen Wallace, Kamden Robb and Rod Mackenzie for contributions to this article! Top Stories