I'm not suggesting Martinez shouldn't absorb most of the blame for the skyrocketing scoring average of the Georgia defense over the last few years. He should have – he was the guy in charge. In fact, Mark Richt and everyone else on staff should absorb that blame, too, and I think they are. I also think Georgia has a better understanding of just how important recruiting is after suffering through parts of the 2008 season and all of 2009.
When Martinez had the talent his defenses were stellar. The 2005 SEC Championship Team was loaded with talent. Who from the 2009 Dawgs would start on the 2005 team? Maybe Rennie Curran? Maybe. How about the 2006 team? Not a bad team there either. 2007? Not horrible, but you could see after that class that there was going to be problem and it turned out there was. Who would be the defensive end to replace Marcus Howard in 2008? Who stepped in for Jeff Owens when he got hurt in 2008? I'm not sure anyone really did. You get the point.
The 2008 and 2009 seasons are the two seasons the recruiting classes of 2005 and 2006 should be seniors – and that's where it caught up with the Dawgs – particularly this season without the recruiting class of 2006's Matthew Stafford, Knowshon Moreno and Asher Allen. Without that trio – and the recruiting class of 2005's Mohamed Massaqoui gone the Dawgs had a serious talent gap on the team - particularly on offense - and it showed at the start of the season until the run game kicked in. Georgia's 7-5 is a culmination of a disastrous class of 2005 and a the top talent of the class of 2006 leaving for the NFL.
Look back at the class of 2005 – it was almost doomed for failure from the start. Four-star prospects Tavares Kearney, Corey Moon, Brandon Sesay never made it on campus or through a season. Boom, boom, boom as the Black Eyed Peas would say - 2,000 and late alright. That made an already-small class even smaller (from 17 to 14 right away). Recruiting almost never is a 100% science - most players don't pan out. So to start with 14 players - many of whom you knew were only contributors - was a killer. Joe Cox is a fighter, but he's obviously not Matthew Stafford. Marcus Washington was great when healthy, but that was a struggle for him. Antavious Coates never got a fair shake due to injuries. Tripp Chandler was an average-at-best tight end who started because Martrez Milner was gone and Aron White and Bruce Figgins were too young. Donavan Baldwin and Ian Smith both sort of disappeared. C.J. Byrd and Mike Moore are average SEC players - nothing wrong with that. Bryan Evans has struggled. The strength of the 2005 class was the defensive tackles, and Jeff Owens and Kade Weston will be missed in 2010. Still, Owens didn't play in 2008, and Weston only turned his play up in 2009. The lone superstar in 2005 – Massaqoui, was not around to help in 2009, but played offense anyway. Georgia's class of 2005 was a disaster.
How about 2006? Josh Johnson was going to be a stud – got in trouble at Georgia and never came back. Eric Norwood? Dawgs were worried about grades too much – he ended up being an All-American at South Carolina. Jermaine Cunningham is killing people at Florida right now. Brandon Wood, who was considered a five-star player coming out of high school, has not quite played like a star in college. The stars of the class of 2006 are starring in the NFL right now: Matthew Stafford, Knowshon Moreno and Asher Allen.
But 2007 was the killer for the Dawgs on the defensive side of the ball - and was not unstoppable in general. Justin Houston is going to play in the NFL, and could be a high draft pick - he's good. Rennie Curran has become a very good college player. But John Knox and Neland Ball don't play for Georgia any more. Charles White plays fullback. Vance Cuff is playing, but not starting. JUCO players Jarius Wynn and Corvey Irvin are long gone. Caleb King has only recently started getting rolling, but he looks great. Tanner Strickland, Trinton Sturdivant and Bruce Figgins didn't play in 2009. Walter Hill doesn't play for Georgia any more; neither does Chris Little.The Scott Haverkamp experiment was a failure. Vince Vance is here and there - as is Justin Anderson. I'm not sure what to make of Ben Harden or Israel Troupe. Drew Butler, Clint Boling and Curran - and a surging Caleb King are the best players in this class... put Aron White in there, too.
But the class of 2007, as it relates to Georgia's defense, was about missing rather than signing players. Several future NFL football players liked Georgia second best, and it has now caught up with them. Miami's Allen Baley. Tennessee's Eric Berry. South Carolina's Cliff Matthews. Ohio State's Cameron Heyward. Georgia Tech's Morgan Burnette. Clifton Geathers, who was committed to Georgia wound up at South Carolina. For the last three falls those players have lined up against Georgia instead of for them – getting the picture?
Georgia's classes of 2008 and 2009 have already done better than those around them. A.J. Green, Ben Jones, Richard Samuel, Bacarri Rambo, Blair Walsh, DeAngelo Tyson, Brandon Boykin, Tavarres King, Marcus Dowtin, Nick Williams, Cordy Glenn, Orson Charles, Branden Smith, Rantavious Wooten and, of course, Washaun Ealey have all either started or made major contributions to the team this season. Some groups are better than others. When Da' Rick Rogers, Garrison Smith and Alec Ogletree arrive on campus don't be surprised with their talent, either. Either you have it or you don't. Georgia has done a better job of getting "it" than they have been doing.
Recruiting matters. You want to get the best players possible at every position – that didn't happen in 2005 or 2007. At the same time, it is easy to point to Georgia's misses – even if they seem so obvious in the 2007 class. Some players have played above their high school reputation… Geno Atkins is one. Baccari Rambo is another. Grass-eating Ben Jones is a third. But you need more than just that.
Martinez and company deserve every inch of criticism they get regarding recruiting – as it has killed them on the defensive side of the ball the last two years. Does Georgia have talent? Yes. Obviously they have talent. Is it as good as it was in 2007? No. Is it as good as it was in 2004? No shot. Has Georgia done a poor job of developing football players on the defensive side of the ball? There are some players who should be playing better on defense – no question. Reshad Jones played lights out against Georgia Tech on Saturday night – had he played like that his entire career he'd be picked higher in the NFL Draft, and Georgia may have a few more wins over the last two years.
Again, it is a combination of things. You want to get the most out of your players – that's coaching. That was not always happening at Georgia. But you have to recruit the best, too. That was not happening, either, and that cannot be overlooked. But that seems to have been corrected by signing better talent than they did (certainly better than the 2005 class).
Mark Richt has talked about chopping wood as a way to talk about working and sticking with something – and that's fine. But I don't want to chop wood. Chopping wood is for Rutgers and programs like that - not Georgia. It's not that I'm not willing to work – I am. But I want to work smart. I want a better tool (player) than an axe. I want a chainsaw - I want the best. Chopping wood all day will get the tree down, but using the chainsaw will get the tree on the ground faster. Unfortunately for Richt and Martinez only axes have been available of late.