HOOVER, Ala. — Georgia football coach Mark Richt arrived at his 12th consecutive Southeastern Conference media days Thursday and quickly found himself discussing two familiar topics: lofty expectations and off-the-field problems.
The Bulldogs were picked by the media to repeat last season's East Division title despite the recent dismissal of tailback Isaiah Crowell and the potential suspensions of three starting defensive backs. Richt got a break from off-the-field issues last summer but wasn't as fortunate this year following the January arrest of cornerback Sanders Commings on simple battery and domestic violence charges and the separate marijuana-related incidents this spring involving safety Bacarri Rambo and cornerback Branden Smith.
Crowell was booted June 29 after an arrest in Athens on two felony weapons charges.
"We're not recruiting bad kids," Richt said. "We're recruiting a lot of great kids. We're competing on the same guys with just about everybody else in the league.
"We certainly are going to have an expectation of how we want our guys to behave. If they don't behave, we're going to discipline them."
Commings has been suspended for the first two games against Buffalo and Missouri, while suspensions for Rambo and Smith have not been announced. Inside linebacker Alec Ogletree also is believed to be facing suspension, but Richt said any announcements would be shared at a later date.
The Bulldogs at media days echoed Richt's sentiments about the lack of troubled players.
"I think you can look around our locker room, and I don't think you see bad kids," senior receiver Tavarres King said. "You see guys who have made mistakes, and mistakes are going to happen. Everybody has made a mistake at one time, and you can't let it affect the program. We've just got to roll with the punches."
Crowell, who took little time in transferring to Alabama State, led the Bulldogs last year with 850 rushing yards and was the SEC's freshman of the year. He was suspended for the first quarter of the Vanderbilt game for undisclosed reasons and missed the entire New Mexico State game for reportedly failing a drug test.
Throughout this spring, Crowell's teammates insisted he had matured since last fall.
"It was kind of devastating for everybody because he had been working so hard and he hadn't been getting into trouble," junior linebacker Jarvis Jones said. "He was becoming a leader, and then something like that happened. As a team, we're going to lose individuals, whether to the NFL or to transferring, and you've just got to put up with that.
"We still have a team here, and we still have a goal in mind, so we just have to focus on what we have."
Jones was a teammate of Crowell at Carver High in Columbus, Ga., a school that has developed a recent history of players getting into trouble.
"It's not Carver. It's the individual," Jones said. "There have been a lot of great players that have gone on to Oklahoma State, Duke University and Ole Miss. We've got a lot of people who have gone on to play college football. It's the individual that makes mistakes."
Richt stressed that Ken Malcome was actually the No. 1 tailback coming out of spring and that freshmen Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley have an even greater opportunity to show what they can do. Georgia won the East last year primarily with freshman tailbacks, and the media believes that's certainly possible again.
"I hope the media is right, but we haven't done anything yet," Richt said. "We know our league is tremendous, and we know the Eastern Division is going to be a rough road."
Odds and ends
Richt said sophomore Malcolm Mitchell will play mostly cornerback at the start of the season but could return to receiver 50 percent of the time by midseason. ... Richt on former Bulldogs quarterback Zach Mettenberger, who is now the starter at LSU: "Any success Zach has, I'll be happy for the kid. I've known him since he was a little peanut."
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...