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Richt on recruiting-class rating: I think we’re No. 1

Georgia coach Mark Richt says despite the critics, he believes Georgia had a top recruiiting class.

Georgia coach Mark Richt says despite the critics, he believes Georgia had a top recruiiting class.

ATHENS — Georgia coach Mark Richt wasn’t about to buy into the gloom and doom that it was a disappointing National Signing Day for Georgia on Wednesday.

“As far as I’m concerned, I think we got the No. 1 class in America,” Richt said.

Not everyone shared Richt’s glowing assessment. Rivals rated Georgia’s recruiting class 12th in the nation, while Scout rated the class 10th. Georgia signed 32 players for the Class of 2013 (18 on defense and 14 on offense). The Bulldogs, however, were spurned by five-star offensive lineman recruit Laremy Tunsil, who backed out of his Georgia commitment to sign with Ole Miss, which ended up with three of the Top 20 players in the nation.

That left Georgia with no five-star recruits but a bundle of four-star recruits that include cornerback Shaquille Wiggins, middle linebacker Reggie Carter and quarterback Brice Ramsey.

“I don’t have any disappointments,” Richt told Reuters. “I’ve said for years, once signing day comes we’re going to be happy with whoever’s here. (Wednesday was) a day of celebration.”

Richt later told The Associated Press that he doesn’t pay attention to where UGA is ranked each year. All that matters is whether the guys they sign can produce on the field.

“Different people have opinions on where people rank and that kind of thing,” Richt told the AP. “We know as coaches that we got a great class that we’re proud of and very excited about. Somebody invented these rankings, decided to rank the players and make a big deal about it. The reality is what happens when we hook it up and play Clemson (in the season opener). That’s what our fans care about the most.”

Of Georgia’s 32 signees, 13 are already enrolled on campus, including Carter and four-star safety Tray Matthews, who was badly needed to fill the void in the secondary left by several departing stars, including former Seminole County standout Bacarri Rambo.

With plenty of needs to fill, especially on the defensive side, the Bulldogs focused heavily on building their numbers at a variety of positions. They signed eight defensive backs, six linebackers and a trio of defensive tackles who all clear the scales at more than 300 pounds. The newcomers will help fill the voids left by the departure of stars such as Jarvis Jones, Alec Ogletree, Rambo and John Jenkins.

“You can’t imagine how much work it takes to get that many guys to come in at the midyear,” Richt said. “It starts with them, their families, their guidance counselors, the NCAA clearinghouse, our admissions staff. So many people have to jump in and do a great job to get that done, and I thank everybody involved in that.”

Top of the class

LB Reggie Carter (South Gwinnett High, Snellville): The 6-foot-2, 230-pound Carter was the ninth-ranked middle linebacker recruit in the nation, according to Scout. He’s a hard hitter but he needs to improve his coverage skills to excel at the next level.

DB Tray Matthews (Newnan High, Newnan): The 6-foot-1, 200-pound Matthews is a hard hitter who projects as a strong safety at the next level. His coverage skills are adequate, but not exceptional.

QB Brice Ramsey (Camden County High, Kingsland): The potential heir apparent to Aaron Murray, the 6-foot-3, 197-pound Ramsey has exceptional arm strength and a quick release, the kind of tools that will make him a strong pocket passer. His pocket awareness needs work, but he will have time to develop with Murray returning for his senior season.

Team report

NEW DL COACH HIRED: Georgia hired Mississippi State co-defensive coordinator Chris Wilson as its new defensive line coach. Wilson replaces Rodney Garner, who returned to his alma mater, Auburn.

SPRING SNAPSHOT: The Bulldogs will need to find help all over the defense, replacing seven starters and several key role players. Offensively, the Bulldogs remain loaded and balanced with the return of QB Murray. Georgia went 11-2 last season and came within five yards of beating Alabama for the SEC title and playing for the BCS Championship. Georgia would like to create work habits in the spring that will carry over into playing at an elite level again in 2013.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “More questions will be asked of the defensive side of the ball this year. So those guys have to do their thing and be able to come through.” — Georgia coach Mark Richt, on Georgia losing seven defensive starters.

PLAYERS TO WATCH IN 2013: — QB Murray. Murray’s return is huge for the Bulldogs, as the three-year starter has already put up big passing numbers throughout his storied Georgia career. Murray passed for a school-record 36 TDs last season with just 10 interceptions, a TD-to-interception ratio of better than 3-to-1.

— WR Malcom Mitchell, Back at WR full-time after splitting time between WR and CB, Mitchell should benefit from the return of Murray. In limited time at WR last season, Mitchell still finished his sophomore season second on the with 40 catches for 572 yards and four TDs in 13 games.

— RB Todd Gurley. Gurley was terrific as a true freshman, rushing for 1,385 yards and 17 TDs while also returning a kickoff for a TD. With a good blend of strength and speed, the 6-foot-1, 218-pound Gurley provides balance in the running game and should open up the passing game for Murray again in 2013.

— LB Jordan Jenkins. Jenkins emerged as a strong pass rusher in his freshman season, finishing with five sacks. He’ll be counted on to provide more pressure off the edge in 2013 with the loss of All-American junior LB Jarvis Jones.

BENNETT REHABBING ACL TEAR: Richt said that WR Michael Bennett is progressing well from ACL surgery that sidelined him last October.

“As far as spring ball, I know he won’t be doing anything live,” Richt said. “There may be a possibility of his doing some route-running and catching balls.”