UPDATED: Georgia clears CB Branden Smith to play in opening game

Branden Smith's clearance to play this season not only bolsters Georgia's secondary, but also its return game. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

Branden Smith's clearance to play this season not only bolsters Georgia's secondary, but also its return game. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

ATHENS — Georgia senior cornerback Branden Smith, who was facing suspension because of a marijuana arrest in back in March, was cleared by the school to play in the Bulldogs’ season opener.

Coach Mark Richt made the announcement shortly after Georgia completed its third practice of preseason football camp on Saturday in Athens.

“Branden Smith will play Game One,” Richt said. “After [reviewing] all the information that we’ve gathered, we’ve decided that he’ll be available to play in the first game and he’ll be available to talk about any details. After determining what happened, we’ve got peace that we’re doing the right thing.”

Smith was expected to miss at least one game as per the UGA athletic association’s conduct code, which calls for an automatic suspension for 10 percent of competition dates for violators of the marijuana-use policy. But central to Georgia’s decision to waive that penalty was the fact that Smith said passed two separate drug tests shortly after he was arrested in a traffic stop on March 14 in south Alabama.

“I came back right away to get tested [by UGA],” Smith said Saturday. “I was clean. I went to court, got tested, I was clean. I don’t do drugs. Now I’m just moving on from this incident. I’d like to apologize for the university and my family as far as being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Smith was placed in the Henry County (Ala.) court’s pretrial intervention program and since completed the requirements to have the marijuana charges expunged from his record.

Smith’s reinstatement is the first bit of good news in an offseason that has been rife with bad news for the Bulldogs. Two defensive starters are expected to miss the first two games each due to arrests in cornerback Sanders Commings (domestic battery) and outside linebacker Chase Vasser (DUI). Meanwhile, Georgia has yet to confirm or deny multiple media reports that free safety Bacarri Rambo and inside linebacker Alec Ogletree face multiple-games suspensions for second-offenses of the athletic association’s marijuana-use policy.

“There were some off-field situations that came up that’s going to keep some of our guys out for the first few games or so,” sophomore defensive end Ray Drew said. “But there is strength in numbers and just having [Smith] back boosts us just little bit more knowing that we have our brother playing beside us and helping us go out and get the job done.”

With Smith back in the fold, it appears that he and converted wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell will be the starting cornerbacks for the Bulldogs’ first two games. They open the season against Buffalo at Sanford Stadium on Sept. 1, then face pass-happy Missouri on the road the following week.

“I most definitely think I can help the secondary,” said Smith, who has started 17 games and played in 36 for the Bulldogs. “We have our whole defense coming back. We were out there today practicing hard, strong, fast. Everybody’s having fun out there. We’re just ready for the season to start. We’re out there as a group and we’re going with it.”

ATHENS – In an offseason that seems like it has been filled with bad news, Georgia finally offered some good for its fans on Saturday.

Coach Mark Richt revealed after Saturday’s practice that starting cornerback Branden Smith will be available to play Bulldogs’ season-opening game against Buffalo. Smith was facing a suspension after his arrest in Alabama in March on misdemeanor marijuana possession charges. He was granted pretrial intervention status in court and has since completed the conditions to have those charges dismissed.

“After just gathering all the information, determining what happened, we’ve got peace that we’re doing the right thing on Branden,” Richt said.

Smith told reporters after Saturday’s practice that he immediately returned to Athens after his arrest during a traffic stop in Headland, Ala., and passed a drug test. He said he also passed a court-ordered drug test and that’s why the Bulldogs cleared him to play.

“I don’t do drugs,” Smith insisted. “So right now I’ve just moved on. Like I said, I apologize to the university and my family for being at the wrong place at the wrong time.”

It was generally thought that Smith would miss Georgia’s first game as per the athletic association’s conduct code regarding marijuana offenses. That policy stipulates a 10 percent suspension for competition dates for violations.

Smith’s return relieves some of the stress on Georgia’s secondary, which already knows it will be without follow starting cornerback Sanders Commings and possibly others. Commings is suspended for the first two games of the season after pleading guilty to misdemeanor domestic violence charges in February. Starting outside linebacker Chase Vasser is also out the first two games because of a May arrest for DUI and free safety Bacarri Rambo and inside linebacker Alec Ogletree reportedly are facing suspensions for marijuana policy violations.

“I most definitely think I can help the secondary,” said Smith, who has started 17 games and played in 36 for the Bulldogs. “We have our whole defense coming back. We were out there today practicing hard, strong, fast. Everybody’s having fun out there. We’re just ready for the season to start. We’re out there as a group and we’re going with it.”

249 comments Add your comment

Bubba J.

August 4th, 2012
1:24 pm

Good news. Go dawgs!

Bubba J.

August 4th, 2012
1:24 pm

Now, here come all the losers saying Fire Mark Richt, he’s too soft! Just watch.

North Georgia Dawg

August 4th, 2012
1:30 pm

Great news! With Smith back and Mitchell’s seemingly easy move to the secondary, we may not be in terrible shape for Missouri. I’d like to know soon how long Ogletree will miss, though I believe we’ve got plenty of depth at linebacker, unlike safety. We still don’t have anyone with great size to cover their 6′6 freshman, but we’ll see how that goes.

WI Dawg

August 4th, 2012
1:31 pm

We could play with no secondary against Buffalo and Mizzou…..it’s hard to throw a football while on your back! JJ gonna have a field day week 1 and 2….mark it down!

a country boy can survive

August 4th, 2012
1:36 pm

can’t wait till mizzou plants their foot in uga’s behind…

WI Dawg

August 4th, 2012
1:36 pm

Today’s headlines from ESPN CF Page…..as we can see…this crap happens everywhere…not just UGA…..

Clemson’s Watkins suspended 2 games | Blog
Police explore events leading to Ball attack
Hill quitting Florida to not be distraction | Blog
Boise State WR Boldewijn to miss 4 games
TCU QB Pachall failed drug test in February
Five key Air Force players no longer on roster
2 UTSA players released after robbery arrests

BIGDAWG38

August 4th, 2012
1:38 pm

Good news on Branden!!! Our D-Line is gonna run over everybody first few games! Big John and Kwame will be hard to block!!! I see a battle brewing for Oct. 6th when we roll into South Cackalacky 6 and O!!! Go Dawgs!!!

Well...

August 4th, 2012
1:42 pm

if all it takes is a reversal of policy why not manufacture some “good news” with respect to the other suspensions. I wonder if this signals an overall retrenchment of UGA’s relatively strict stance on drug use. It is the SEC…#winatallcosts

MaconBulldog

August 4th, 2012
1:42 pm

@ North Georgia Dawg we have Josh Harvey Clemons he is 6′5 we may be good but he is at safety but who knows

WI Dawg

August 4th, 2012
1:43 pm

You know….for a team that finished 8-5 last year in the “Little” 12….Mizzou sure has a big mouth huh….they lost to Arizona St in the 2nd week last year….hmmmm…..and only scored 17 pts against Miami of Ohio……yea….I stated that correctly….Miami of Ohio!!! I’m sure I would talk about any foot in any behind after that start last season.

Georgia Fan

August 4th, 2012
1:46 pm

I am not a fan of Mark Richt for some of his personnel and on field decisions but I am big fan of how he handles discipline. If he says this is the right move then I take him at his word. He has built a solid career of doing the right thing in these situations.

The Truth

August 4th, 2012
1:47 pm

They need to bring in former All-American and 1st round pick Bernard Williams to talk to these clowns about throwing away a NFL career and possible hall of fame induction because of something as silly as marijuana. For those that don’t know, after 15 failed drug tests (that he can remember) he was banned from the league after starting all games his rookie year at left tackle. He didn’t sniff a pro football field against for 6 years when he showed up in the XFL. After that, he played several more years in the CFL, but never became the superstar (or multi-millionaire) he was destined to become.

WI Dawg

August 4th, 2012
1:47 pm

I sure hope Mizzou offers Big John and Kwame some pre-game snacks before the game…cause if not…they gonna be hungry for a center and guard…..they should send a text to the Mizzou center and say “please rub some pork grease on ya before the game”….lol

claytondawg

August 4th, 2012
1:49 pm

Great to have Smith back. Now, let’s keep up the good news for a change.

Dawson Dave

August 4th, 2012
1:56 pm

“Wrong Place/Wrong Time….the criminals lament.

JimDog85

August 4th, 2012
1:57 pm

Sorry that Branden got caught in this mess. It sure ruined his spring break. I think he has been punished enough.

Will

August 4th, 2012
1:57 pm

It is about time that UGA finally got the message that you cannot keep suspending our players and have a nationally competitive football team. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t support the drug and alcohol abusers on our football team but we cannot win without them. Maybe they could be punished during the non football season.

You can either have a team full of good boys that cannot play at the level it takes to win a national championship or you can have a team with a few straight arrows and a whole lot of top level athletes. It looks like UGA is moving toward the latter.

St Richt

August 4th, 2012
1:58 pm

Your coach is soft as baby doo. He’s as innocent as OJ was.. Can’t do the typical one game suspension for coastal Carolina this year..

St Richt

August 4th, 2012
1:59 pm

mark richt the enforcer

I want to win

August 4th, 2012
2:00 pm

Great news! We need all the good players we can get playing! Just win!

Salty Dawg

August 4th, 2012
2:03 pm

Enter your comments here

WI Dawg

August 4th, 2012
2:06 pm

St. Richt…don’t u have some hotdogs to sell today down on North Ave or did you take the day off??

7576DAWG

August 4th, 2012
2:07 pm

If Rambo test has been clean since the spring break brownie thing I don’t think he should get more than one game off and I think with Ogletree this was his first offense with pot , the other incident didn’t have anything to do with alcohol or drugs so he doesn’t deserve more than one game off either.
I think there is finally a different mind set in Athens and punishing these kids too much wouldn’t help any. I think they deserve the benefit of the doubt that they will not repeat any drug use. If Rambo or Ogletree have to miss four game I think that is excess for what they did. You know that Mark Richt hasn’t just let these two sit around without punishment.
I say time served and one game suspension. This will probably be the last year for both players so too much punishment will only hurt the team . The best punishment for someone that won’t be back next year, and that could be as early as January 2013 , is to restrict their extra curricula activity , community service , running steps at 6:00 a.m.

The AD

August 4th, 2012
2:08 pm

So, school policy is a definite one game suspension, but St. Mark of Athens thumbs his nose at school policy and decides he needs Smith to beat Buffalo. This “coach” has fallen very, very far as a disciplinarian. This was a cut-and-dried punishment, and the guy decides he doesn’t have to abide by rules he helped set up. Nice.

Salty Dawg

August 4th, 2012
2:12 pm

Good news! For all you haters deal with it,no need to penalize the player or the team in this case.As far as Mizzou goes I’m glad their in the conference but with or without the suspended players the DAWGS are going to roll out of there with a convincing win.Those B12 defenses do not bring the heat like they are going to experience when that front seven Tee’s off on them.We win by 20 plus book it.

vohndaddy

August 4th, 2012
2:15 pm

Mark Richt is liked by all the players. He is so cool. However, his coaching and leadership style earn little respect and no fear from his buddies, the players.

WI Dawg

August 4th, 2012
2:16 pm

@ The AD

You obviously didn’t read the above article huh before you posted your oh so intelligent post:

——————————————————————————————————-
“After just gathering all the information, determining what happened, we’ve got peace that we’re doing the right thing on Branden,” Richt said.

Smith told reporters after Saturday’s practice that he immediately returned to Athens after his arrest during a traffic stop in Headland, Ala., and passed a drug test. He said he also passed a court-ordered drug test and that’s why the Bulldogs cleared him to play.
————————————————————————————————————-

The kid obviously never smoked pot that night or else it would have been in his system when he tested….wrong place, wrong time.

The Truth

August 4th, 2012
2:16 pm

All of you with poor things to say about these kids act like you’ve never broken the law. Sure, you may have been lucky enough to not get caught – but then again being a student of below average intelligence and no discernible athletic ability, you weren’t walking around with a target on your back.

The AD

August 4th, 2012
2:22 pm

Hey WI, read the highlighted article in the story. Never mind, here is the relevent part:

“UGA Athletic Director Greg McGarity, who was also attending the news conference, said marijuana arrests of UGA student-athletes carry a mandatory suspension of 10 percent of competition dates. In football that usually means one game, though it is left up to the head coach’s discretion, McGarity said.”

Seems pretty clear that he should be suspended, but that “head coach’s discretion” means unless we need the player to beat a really crappy MAC team.

Richt is “all-in” to save his job.

WI Dawg

August 4th, 2012
2:24 pm

To all UGA haters:

The UGA Athletic dept is running out of tackling dummies at a very high rate since practice started this fall. If you are a UGA Hater, please come to the Woodruff Practice Field for try outs. You can yell out all your criticisms at Big John Jenkins and Jarvis Jones as they come at you full speed! A thrilling experience we promise! Please hurry…we will accept all haters!

Game Changer

August 4th, 2012
2:27 pm

Richt meets with all players the night before spring break, EMPHASIZES NO SMOKING DOPE MULTIPLE TIMES, in less than 24 hours a starting cornerback who fail a drug test fall of 2011 gets stopped by police and busted for marijuana possesion and driving under the influence. Never mind the kids is given grace by the courts, B Smith at 100% DID NOT GIVE A DANG ABOUT WHAT RICHT HAD TO SAY OR EXPECTED.

AND then I read my fellow UGA fans posting that alums like myself need to deal with it, deal with what, the lack of respect and discipline that continues with our football program. Total embarrassment to the whole program and UNIVERSITY OF GEORGIA as an institution.

The AD

August 4th, 2012
2:27 pm

WI, just tell your coach not to act as if he’s above school policy and you won’t have haters in this instance.

1953dawg

August 4th, 2012
2:32 pm

The A.D. you should change your initials to D.A.(Bumb Ass) The kid was tested for pot after his arrest, and he has been tested by the courts. He doesn’t smoke pot, and he had none in his system. Just so you understand, pot stays in your systems for up to 30 days, so the kid is innocent. Don’t know what outlaw school you are a fan of, S.C, Auburn, Bama, Tn, or Florida,but the kid would have never missed a game if he was guilty and played on these teams. He would actually have to tested positive 3 or more times for most of these schools, that simply look the other way when it comes to pot. Since Richt and UGA are so soft on kids and discipline, Crowell would still be starting for Auburn, Bama, S.C, Florida or Tn. These schools and their phony ass coaches would have done nothing to Crowell. Hell if he were at S.C. under S.O.S. he would have to be guilty at least 3 or 4 times to miss a snap(Garcia’s discipline by S.C. was a total joke) So go spew somewhere else, because you have no clue how strict Richt & UGA are when it comes to discipline. Actually, other than Vandy, UGA is the only school in the SEC that knows what the word means.

Dawg Whisperer

August 4th, 2012
2:33 pm

AD… it is your privilege to hate all you want. If all this is so important to you, by all means have at it… and by the way, have a good day, my friend.

Son of Sammy Davis Jr, Jr

August 4th, 2012
2:33 pm

I hope the young man takes advantage of his 2nd chance

Thinkalittle

August 4th, 2012
2:36 pm

Some of you morons seem to not understand the concept of innocent until proven guilty. The charges were dropped, therefor legally he was never “arrested”. That satisfies the institutional discipline question. The rest is up to the coach.

@gamechanger

August 4th, 2012
2:36 pm

Spreading more lies, Please show where Smith ever failed a drug test,or was it the same inside sources that told you John Jenkins would be academically ineligible and Georgia facing major sanctions lie ? And the 6′9″ kid that has no place on a football field, clueless idiot.

Douglas

August 4th, 2012
2:37 pm

Here is what I think: All UGA fans should flood the NCAA about placing a drug testing policy that is standard for all schools. We have one of the toughest policies in Division I — but yet we get laughed at by schools like Florida, Auburn, etc. who do not test their players. It’s time to make it an even playing field. The NCAA are such hyprocrites — they want to make the playing field level but yet they don’t have a drug testing policy. Give me a break.

[...] was arrested for misdemeanor marijuana possession during spring break in March. However, coach Mark Richt announced on Saturday that Smith will not miss any playing time. Smith, who was granted pretrial intervention status in the case, said he passed drug tests [...]

BKing

August 4th, 2012
2:42 pm

LOL…..Keep on hating…punishment fit the crime…4 people in the car, no marijuana in his system…obviously he’s not selling it if there’s enough to fill 1 joint….hate for him to pay for someone else’s crime….Ogletree to serve 1 game suspension….Bacarri Rambo to serve 1 game…both were suspended earlier in their careers, but never for a failed drug test…Vasser…who cares? This kid is a goofball…

Dawg Whisperer

August 4th, 2012
2:43 pm

Uh oh… game changer is still working it. I’m an alum and I can honestly say that I’m dealing with it quite well. Try changing your focus from college football and athletics in general to the more important function of educating all of the students, not just a few that play sports. UGA is excelling at that as demonstrated in a number of publications.

GTBob

August 4th, 2012
2:43 pm

Today’s headlines from ESPN CF Page…..as we can see…this crap happens everywhere…not just UGA…..

UGA logic: If another school has an arrest then they are just as bad as us and our 50 arrests.

Trueblueeagle

August 4th, 2012
2:43 pm

“I don’t do drugs” hahahahaha
CMR must be worried about Mizzu!

GTBob

August 4th, 2012
2:47 pm

He has built a solid career of doing the right thing in these situations.

Yeah, hiding Crowell’s drug test results until after the Florida game so that he would be suspended for New Mexico St was the right thing to do. Give me a break. He is just like any other slimy coach that will game the system to help his career.

drbasic1

August 4th, 2012
2:47 pm

@ game changer

no, sir, you are the embarrassment. I too am an alumnus, I think you just don’t get it. Go live in a country where you are guilty until proven innocent, seems that is what you would rather live by. As far as you being an alumnus i find that quite hard to believe as you don’t stand by any loyalty to the coaches or players. Leastwise you are certainly not a DGD. Good day.

WI Dawg

August 4th, 2012
2:48 pm

We just had our first hater sign up to be a practice dummy!!! Down…43-22…Hut…Hut…Smack!! Ooooooo….Anyone know how to get ketchup stains off a football jersey?? Oh wait…that’s not ketchup…that’s gonna hurt in the morning

Joey

August 4th, 2012
2:51 pm

“…we’ve got peace that we’re doing the right thing on Branden,…”
**************************************
I’d have more peace if we did “the right thing on” Ogletree . . .

Kerryb

August 4th, 2012
2:52 pm

Hey GTBob, How about the Tech LB that came to Athens and got into a bar fight last June. He was even charged with fighting with the Police. Has CPJ done anything to him? Haven’t heard.

drbasic1

August 4th, 2012
2:53 pm

@51 arrest

So a coach is to control 100 players 24/7 (all of which are over 18 making them ADULTS)….your a moron…..

Dawg Whisperer

August 4th, 2012
2:54 pm

GTBob… sounds like you have the skinny on everything UGA. Do you think Richt would agree with your allegations and why not? Now apply that also to any administrative official at UGA as well as Chip Towers and all the AJC writers that cover UGA. You see, innuendo and conclusions are not the same as facts, is it?