Athens — Georgia coaches and players have spent a lot of time this summer talking about mass transportation. Specifically, buses.
As in, “You’re either on the bus or you’re not,” as coach Mark Richt has said more than once this offseason.
As the Bulldogs get set to open preseason camp this week, one thing is evident: Their bus is less crowded now.
The Bulldogs will open the 2011 season well below the NCAA maximum of 85 scholarship players. Seventy-eight scholarship players are expected to check in when players report for tonight’s mandatory team meeting. That includes 54 returnees and 24 newcomers. Another 27 walkons will join them.
Not included in that number are 10 former players that are no longer with the team but had eligibility remaining (see chart below). Some of those are not in Athens by choice, others were shown the door. There’s a lot of gray area in between.
“Some guys have chosen to move on and a couple got a little help,” Richt said.
You’ll never get a straight answer from the head coach on this subject. In almost every case he announces a departure as a “mutually agreed” upon decision to leave. It’s his way of saving the players from embarrassment.
But comments from the Bulldogs that are still around indicate in only a few cases did the departures have an actual say in the matter.
“The guys on this team, the guys that stayed, are the guys that really want to be a part of this team,” junior linebacker Christian Robinson said last week. “Some guys didn’t always fit in or didn’t always do what they were supposed to do or didn’t behave. Nothing against them, but they just didn’t fit into what we need right now.”
It was a well known fact that some of the players that have left were having trouble doing things “the Georgia way.” For instance, tailback Washaun Ealey had been the subject of multiple disciplinary suspensions and offensive tackle A.J. Harmon had been sidelined because of academic struggles.
And in the case of guard Brent Benedict, there was a well-publicized weightroom confrontation with new strength and conditioning coordinator Joe Tereshinski that resulted in a “mutual” decision for him to leave.
“Since we got back from after the bowl game, Coach Richt has made it very clear that we’re going to work and we’re going to make everybody understand that you got to pay a price and it’s something special to wear the ‘G’ and be part of the University of Georgia,” Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said last week. “It’s not going to be easy. We’ve made it extremely tough around here. When you turn up the heat, sometimes you’re going to have guys that don’t want to be a part of it. That’s their choice.”
In total, 13 players that would otherwise have eligibility to play football for Georgia in 2011 aren’t going to be with the team this fall. Add the one-game suspension of junior running back Carlton Thomas and the eligibility issues facing linebacker Jarvis Jones, that number jumps to 15.
The Bulldogs didn’t always want the players gone. A.J. Green, who was selected fourth in the NFL draft, really had no choice. Starting left tackle Trinton Sturdivant suffered a third ACL tear. And rising senior Caleb King desperately wanted to lead the team in 2011 but simply could not make the grades to maintain his eligibility.
“I hate it for Caleb because nobody wanted to be here more than him,” said Robinson, who attended Greater Atlanta Christian with King. “If he hadn’t been recruited, nobody would have seen me.”
Georgia will suffer some adverse effects. Depth on the offensive line, at running back and within the linebacking corps is perilously low. But sometimes, as they say, it’s addition by subtraction.
“We have enough guys here at Georgia to get it done,” Robinson said.
*Carlton Thomas, junior tailback and third-leading rusher, is suspended for first game.
**Jarvis Jones, sophomore linebacker, has an NCAA eligibility issue under review.
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