Two more Bulldog arrests over the weekend, barely a week after Damon Evans was toppled, has the message boards and media up in arms again over the state of discipline in the Georgia program. Short-timer David Hale still manages to capture the exasperation of the Bulldog Nation by asking “when’s the last time UGA had a worse offseason than this?“
Hale’s talking about more than just the arrests of course. We start with the coaching changes in the aftermath of the 2009 season. The coaching changes were definitely disruptive and will be a big part of the story in 2010, but you’ll have to dig deep to find many fans who see the changes as a negative. The drama surrounding the arrest and subsequent resignation of athletic director Damon Evans was certainly a huge story for the athletic department, but it has little impact on the short-term operation of the football program. That brings us to the arrests, and there are many.
- DE Montez Robinson: Robinson’s dismissal in April started the offseason problems. Robinson ran into trouble during the 2009 season and found more of the same this spring, derailing an attempt at a comeback.
- QB Zach Mettenberger: Mettenberger’s spring break arrest ultimately led to his dismissal from the program and made the QB depth chart a sudden concern. The future of would-be receiver Logan Gray and the readiness of true freshman Hutson Mason are now key questions.
- Walk-ons Trent Dittmer and Josh Parrish were arrested in April for alcohol-related incidents. Dittmer was kicked off the team, and Parrish was suspended indefinitely.
- BratGate: It ended up being a non-issue, but RB Dontavious Jackson found himself in potential trouble when some acquaintances of his harassed and attacked a couple in an Athens taxi. Jackson was vindicated as a “peacemaker” in the incident, but his name and the strange story behind the incident went nationwide for a few days until his role emerged.
- DB Jordan Love: It will go down as the most surreal incident of the summer, and we’re still waiting on charges to be dismissed. I’d be surprised if Love’s incident resulted in a suspension, but a judge’s unwillingness to end this madness last week kept the uncertainty alive.
- RB Dontavious Jackson: For the second time this year, Jackson’s name is in the news. This time it’s for DUI, and it’s earned him at least a six-game suspension. For someone already struggling to make an impact on the depth chart, this suspension could sink his chances of contributing on the field.
- WR Tavarres King: King was arrested along with Jackson, but King was 1) a first-time offender and 2) not facing nearly the list of charges Jackson is.
That’s an awful lot to happen in the past three or four months and has certainly created some headaches for Mark Richt, but fans have the luxury of skipping ahead to this question: how does it affect the team I’ll see on the field this season? I don’t mean to sound flippant about players getting arrested, especially when drunk driving is involved, but neither do I see the point of over-the-top hand-wringing from budding Lord High Executioners typified by this column in the Red and Black. “The University cannot continually endure summer after summer of this juvenile and immature behavior from its most high-profile athletes?” Really? It can’t? 225 years down the drain?
But how can you blame student writers for hyperbole when the pros demonstrate a similar lack of perspective? Take Ron Higgins of Memphis who plays an interesting game of connect-the-dots to call Mark Richt’s future into question. If you read Higgins’ piece, you’d get the impression that Damon Evans was the only administrator fighting for Richt against a university and its quick-on-the-trigger president that can’t wait to see Richt gone. Of course that’s fantasy, and it’s backed up with nothing at all but conjecture, but that’s easy summertime fodder for someone who intends on giving very little thought to what all of this actually means to Mark Richt and his job in 2010.
In terms of actual impact, you have this: a promising sophomore defensive end/outside linebacker expected to see playing time is gone. So is the presumptive #2 QB. A likely starting receiver is out for at least one game. A 4th string tailback is out for half the year. You can create plausible scenarios in which all but the Jackson suspension have a significant impact on the team’s 2010 fortunes, but unless King’s suspension is extended into the South Carolina game the team is still in fairly good shape. The loss of Robinson hurts at a thin position, and hopefully we won’t have to find out much about the second-string quarterback. No, that doesn’t make it all OK or excuse the behavior – it’s just an honest accounting of the situation on the football field.
Getting back to Hale’s question, I’ll suggest that the buildup to the 2003 season still stands out. The combination of injuries, suspensions, and the scandal of selling SEC Championship rings had the Bulldogs headed into a season-opening road trip to Clemson with significant holes on defense (not to mention an offensive line dominated by underclassmen). Eight players were suspended. The situation in the secondary was so dire that the Bulldogs turned to a freshman walk-on named Tra Battle to do what he could against a Clemson offense that was defined by its passing game. Here’s a summary of what Georgia was missing entering the 2003 season:
Will Thompson, DE, Dislocated Ankle, OUT for year
Cedric Haywood, SE, Knee-ACL, OUT for year
Marquis Elmore, DE, Ankle Sprain, OUT for Clemson game
Tyson Browning-RB (3 games), Tim Jennings-DB (2 games), DeMario Minter-S (2 games), B.J. Fields-DB, Chris Hickman-FB, Jamario Smith-FB, Mario Raley-SE, Bryan McClendon-FLK (1 game)
Could Miss Opener
Gerald Anderson, NT, Neck Sprain
Greg Blue, ROV, Knee-PCL
Kentrell Curry, ROV, Stress Fracture in Leg
Michael Turner, C, Shoulder Sprain
Ken Veal, NT, Ankle Sprain
Yes, a lot of those absences were injuries, and we’re not even to the point yet in 2010 of dreading the daily Red Cross Reports from preseason camp. The suspensions were still significant, and RingGate brought on its own hand-wringing and existential crisis. (Has everyone recovered yet from that stain on their diplomas? Good.) There’s no great lesson here; we’re still talking about degrees of misery. The SEC East title (and one incredible defense) that followed eight suspensions in 2003 means as little for this team as the 8-5 finish that followed a relatively clean offseason in 2009.