HOOVER, Ala. – Mark Richt ignored the red flags and was among the nation’s coaches who lined up around the block for Isaiah Crowell.
He already has seen seven members from his vaunted 2011 recruiting class either kicked out, flunked out or never academically qualified to begin with (“Dream Team”? Anybody?).
Arrests and suspensions likely will lead to four defensive starters missing games next season.
There is a problem again at Georgia — and it matters little that it’s a different one from the past.
Richt, to his credit, no longer responds to players’ criminal or just plain stupid actions by merely making them run stadium steps or suspending their dessert privileges. He has come a long way from enabling Odell Thurman. He suspends players. He kicks them out. He tries to make them understand that getting four or five stars stamped on your forehead by a recruiting site and the ego trip of a signing-day news conference shouldn’t be accompanied by a sense of entitlement (even if it too often does).
The problem now is that too many of the players Georgia is recruiting should be red-lined. The line of risk needs to be pulled back.
Obviously, Richt and his staff are getting a lot right. The Bulldogs are favored to win the SEC East. They’re projected to open the season as a top-10 team.
But imagine if they actually had everybody there.
“We’re not recruiting bad kids,” Richt said in a private media session with local writers Thursday at SEC Media Days. “We’re recruiting a lot of great kids. Other schools are recruiting the same guys.”
Have the negative headlines of this offseason given him reason to pay closer attention to a recruit’s personal blemishes?
“We do find out as much as we possibly can,” he said. “There are rules on how many times we can call a kid and see him in person. We try to maximize those things.”
Sorry. But losing seven of 26 kids from one recruiting class in one year screams that there’s a need for a better filter.
Richt was accurate when he said, “To say that issues aren’t happening around the country isn’t really realistic.”
But losing at least five starters (Crowell plus four on defense suspended) is significant.
Crowell, after multiple suspensions and missteps his freshman season, was bounced following his arrest on felony gun charges. Cornerback Sanders Commings is gone for two games following an arrest for domestic violence. Safety Baccari Rambo (possibly four games), cornerback Branden Smith and linebacker Alec Ogletree all reportedly tested positive for marijuana. Three other freshmen (Nick Marshall, Chris Sanders, Sanford Seay) were kicked out for their reported involvement in a campus theft.
Some of Georgia’s problems can be attributed to having a tougher drug-and-alcohol policy than other schools. But that doesn’t explain everything. The recruiting mistakes will hurt.
The we’ll-be-better-off-without-him rallying cries regarding Crowell makes for a nice locker-room speech. But it’s just not factual. He was Georgia’s best running back — by a long shot — and the Dogs’ potential issues on the offensive line don’t suggest just anybody can be productive.
This will be a team that must rely on its defense and its resolve. The Dogs’ ability to rebound from a 0-2 start with 10 consecutive wins last season said something about the character of the players who aren’t getting arrested (even if that was followed by two more losses to LSU and Michigan State). It’s a team with a solid quarterback (Aaron Murray), strong leadership and several players who bypassed the NFL draft last season to come back for another season. But the suspensions and player losses will hurt.
“There’s been more attrition the last couple of years than there has been since we’ve been at Georgia,” Richt said. “But sometimes that happens. We’ll still have plenty of guys to field a team.”
Then again, if just having enough players was the criteria, there would be celebrations in Toledo and Ole Miss. The question now is whether the Dogs’ chances for a special season have been undone before they’ve even played a game.
By Jeff Schultz
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