HOOVER, Ala. — Fresh off its first appearance in the Southeastern Conference championship game since 2005, there should be plenty for the Georgia football team to be excited about heading into a new season.
An expected top-10 preseason ranking.
A head coach with a contract extended through 2016.
A defense with the potential to be one of the best in the nation.
All of which has been pushed to the background in recent weeks after the dismissal of star tailback Isaiah Crowell, which followed a spring that was dominated by reports of player suspensions.
“When people get in trouble, trouble travels fast, especially with technology,” defensive end Abry Jones said.
Negative headlines can create perception – true or not – that Georgia is recruiting kids that turn out to be trouble.
“We’re not recruiting bad kids,” coach Mark Richt said Thursday at the start of his 12th appearance at Southeastern Conference media days. “We’re recruiting a lot of great kids. We’re competing on the same guys with just about everybody else in the conference. …We certainly are going to have an expectation on how we want our guys to behave. If they don’t behave, we’re going to discipline them.”
Outside linebacker Jarvis Jones doesn’t think the trickle of off-field incidents should reflect poorly on the program.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “I mean, it’s the individual that makes the mistakes, not the University of Georgia. So I mean, you’ve got to look at it like that. It’s not the University of Georgia. Coach Richt ain’t in trouble. That’s what you’ve got to look at.”
Crowell was booted from the team on June 29, the same day he was arrested on felony weapons charges. He was suspended for one game and part of another last season.
Despite the distractions, Jarvis Jones is upbeat as ever about what he’s seen in summer workouts.
“It’s been an unbelievable summer for us,” he said. “We’ve still got a goal in mind and we’ve got to stay focused on what we have.”
Georgia begins preseason practices in less than two weeks on Aug 2.
When the season starts on Sept. 1 against Buffalo, Georgia will be without suspended cornerback Sanders Comings, who was arrested on a domestic violence charge this winter.
He’ll also miss the Missouri game the next week, but Georgia hasn’t revealed which other players may be suspended.
Cornerback Branden Smith is expected to miss at least one game after a possession of marijuana charge, and safety Bacarri Rambo was appealing a four-game suspension for his second violation of Georgia’s drug testing policy. Inside linebacker Alec Ogletree reportedly also is facing a suspension.
Georgia has a more stringent penalty structure for drug-testing violations than other schools, but Richt said he hasn’t lobbied for a uniform league policy and reiterated that “I do think we’re doing the right thing for Georgia.”
Richt was asked specifically about Rambo and Ogletree by a reporter who wondered “why this continues to happen in your program.”
“Some people have policies,” Richt said, “that bring certain things to light and some people don’t.”
Richt said that he knows Georgia’s suspension scorecard heading into the season, but isn’t telling yet.
“Do I know?” Richt said. “I do know. Yeah. We’ll share it some time but not today.”