ATHENS — The Georgia football program on Saturday marked the halfway point of spring practice with a scrimmage, but there was more — a second player leaving the team in 24 hours, unresolved questions on drug suspensions and calls by players for a course correction.
The off-field news continued to overshadow the positive, and head coach Mark Richt didn’t try to avoid it. He began a post-scrimmage news conference by announcing backup safety Marc Deas had elected to transfer, following backup defensive end Derrick Lott out the door.
Richt insisted both players left in a desire for playing time.
“They just didn’t think it was gonna happen for them in the time frame they were here,” Richt said.
But it happened amid the backdrop of the looming suspensions for two key starters. Bacarri Rambo is facing a four-game suspension, pending an appeal, for a second violation of the Georgia drug policy. Inside linebacker Alec Ogletree is also facing suspension for an uncertain length.
The arrests, suspension and dismissals are up to nine among the defensive backs alone since September.
“We really have to come together as a team,” inside linebacker Christian Robinson said. “I know we’ve got these two weeks left, and before we leave for that month, we’re gonna have to sit down and talk as a team and lay down the expectations. Because it’s obvious we have some problems. We’ve had people leave. We’ve gotta get everyone together and get on thee same page.
“Because we have high expectations for ourselves, and we want to be in Miami (for the BCS championship game). That’s not just something we’re throwing around like it’s casual, (or because) it’s what everybody’s trying to do. It’s something that’s realistic for us. We’re striving for that.”
Robinson was reminded that last year’s turnaround — from 6-7 in 2010 to 10-4 in 2011 — was credited in large part to better chemistry and a lack of off-field problems.
So what has gone wrong?
“I’d say maybe some guys had some lapse in judgment,” he said. “I don’t think it’s any change in leadership. It’s the fact some guys weren’t thinking. We’ve just gotta get those guys on the same page and deal with what we’ve gotta deal with. And certain things happen, we can’t change it; we can only change the future. We’re gonna focus on that.”
Defensive end Cornelius Washington granted that there have been “a whole lot of distractions.” A junior who himself was arrested last year on a DUI, which was later reduced to reckless driving, Washington said the players have been discussing the off-field problems.
“Actually there’s been a few (meetings),” Washington said. “I don’t know. At the end of the day I look at it like this: A guy’s going to do what a guy wants to do. A man’s gonna do what a man’s gonna do. I feel like the way I’ve been talking to these guys, and the way things have been going I have gained their respect, and things are gonna be better from this point forward.”
Richt spent a good deal of his news conference defending the team’s discipline, granting that because penalties involve playing time — i.e. game suspensions — the discipline becomes public.
“It does hurt. But the point I’m making is there’s expectations we have,” Richt said. “If they do right, they get rewarded. If they don’t do right, they get disciplined. We’re taking care of business when it comes to discipline here.”
The result could end up hurting the bottom line at Georgia. The team is down to an estimated 73 scholarship commitments for the 2012 season, 12 fewer than the NCAA limit. The secondary is in deep trouble, with safety Shawn Williams the only projected starter not facing suspension.
Richt agreed the departures have a chance to hurt the team, especially when it comes to finding enough bodies for special teams. Asked about signing a recruiting class of only 19 players, he said there was no way of predicting all the attrition that would occur.
Guard Chris Burnette, the newly appointed leader of the offensive line, called the off-field problems frustrating.
“You would like for us to kind of have a squeaky clean offseason. But I know we’re not gonna let that distract us,” Burnette said. “The main thing we’ve been focusing on is remember the goal and just keep pushing forward and not worry about the outside stuff. And just think about our teammates before making these decisions.”
Tight end Jay Rome was the star of the day, catching a couple of touchdown passes. The redshirt freshman had a 30-yard catch in regulation and a goal-line catch that Richt called “pretty acrobatic.”
The tailback carries were divvied up rather evenly. Freshman Keith Marshall had five rushes for 18 yards, while Isaiah Crowell had four for 19, and Ken Malcome had four for 13. Richard Samuel had none, as he continued to train at fullback.