HOOVER, Ala. – Georgia was picked to repeat as SEC Eastern Division champions and return to the Georgia Dome for the SEC Championship game for a second straight year. But that wasn’t the most prevalent topic of discussion for the Bulldogs during SEC Football Media Days on Thursday.
Team discipline was the topic du jour for coach Mark Richt and the three players he brought with him to the Wynfrey Hotel. With the recent arrest and subsequent dismissal of tailback Isaiah Crowell, the Bulldogs stand to have five starters miss games this season due to disciplinary problems. That does not the count the dismissal of four other players for team-policy violations or academic shortcomings.
Richt has been out of the public eye and line of media since the Crowell news broke on June 29. So the majority of questions he fielded from beat reporters had to do with the impact disciplinary actions have had on his team for 2012.
“We’re certainly going to have an expectation for how we want our guys to behave,” Richt said. “If they don’t behave, we’re going to discipline them. So if the discipline involves running up and down the stairs at the stadium or some things that might be at the level of losing playing time losing your ability toi stay at Georgia, the thing we’re going to do at Georgia is we’re going to take care of any issues that do come up in the proper way.
“And so, if a guy does end up having to leave, it’s for the best interest of the group. From time to time that has to happen. It’s sad that it does but we’re going to keep taking care of business in that way.”
Until Thursday, Richt had not commented extensively on the decision to dismiss Crowell. The former 5-star running back prospect was arrested on June 29 on three weapons charges – including two felonies – when a handgun with a filed-off serial number was discovered in his car during a traffic stop. That was at least the eighth disciplinary ruling Richt has had to make since the calendar has flipped to 2012.
“No decision to dismiss a guy from the team is an easy decision,” Richt said. “It’s always tough because I care very much about all these guys. Having to make those kinds of decisions are tough. But in the end, I think we did what was in the best interest of the program. I wish Isaiah the very best in his future and I hope everything will work out for him.”
Starting cornerback Sanders Commings, who pleaded guilty to a domestic battery charge back in February, is suspended for the first two games of the season. Richt remained evasive when the subject turned to several unresolved disciplinary matters on the team.
The high school coach of Bacarri Rambo has been widely reported as saying that the All-American free safety will be suspended for four games due to a second violation of Georgia’s marijuana-use policy. However, neither Richt nor nobody with UGA has confirmed those reports. Likewise, Georgia has never confirmed reports that starting inside linebacker Alec Ogletree violated the same policy. Also, there has been no announcement of any disciplinary action for starting cornerback Branden Smith, who was arrested in March for misdemeanor marijuana and has since pleaded no contest to the charge.
Indications Thursday were any announcements on such rulings won’t be soon in coming. However, Richt admitted he has already made those decisions.
“We’ll share it sometime but not today,” Richt said.
Caught in the middle of the crossfire are the players who choose to abide by Georgia’s policies. Three of them accompanied Richt to Birmingham on Thursday – Abry Jones, Jarvis Jones and Tavarres King.
“It was devastating for everybody because [Crowell] had been working so hard,” said Jarvis Jones, an All-America outside linebacker from Columbus who has known Crowell most of his life. “I love him like a brother. But, you know, as a team we’re going to lose individuals. We hate that it ended that way, but we’re still a team here and we’ve got to stay focused on what we have.”
According to the media assembled at the Wynfrey this week, the Bulldogs have the makings to repeat as SEC East champions. Aside from the unknowns regarding disciplinary suspensions, Georgia returns nine starters from a Top 5 defense, features an all-star quarterback and has a schedule that is set up for success. The Bulldogs didn’t shy away from their distinction as favorites, but neither were they particularly impressed by it.
“Expectations are expectations,” said the senior King, the Bulldogs’ leading receiver last year with 705 yards and 8 touchdowns. “I’m just worried about outcomes.”
As for whether discipline – or lack thereof – is going to affect their ability to win, Richt couldn’t say. But he said the Bulldogs are going to continue to knock their players in line when they step out of line. That, he inferred, is not the case everywhere.
“People make mistakes,” Richt said. “When they do, you discipline it. Some people have policies that bring certain things to light and some people don’t. The bottom line is, I love every guy on our team and, part of love is being able to teach them right from wrong. When they make mistakes we’re going to discipline them in such a way that hopefully they’ll become better men down the road.
“That’s what we do at Georgia. To say these issues aren’t happening around the country aren’t really realistic.”
FULL AJC COVERAGE FROM DAY 3 OF SEC MEDIA DAYS:
FULL AJC COVERAGE FROM DAY 2 OF SEC MEDIA DAYS:
FULL AJC COVERAGE FROM DAY 1 OF SEC MEDIA DAYS: