- David Ching, ESPN Staff Writer
Editor’s note: Each day this week, we’ll pose a question facing Georgia’s football team this spring as it moves toward the 2013 season. Today’s question: Today is the final day of classes before Georgia takes its spring break. Can the Bulldogs dodge the disciplinary issues they encountered at this time a year ago?
ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia’s football team held its final practice before spring break Thursday afternoon, but before it did, the Bulldogs heard a message from one of their own.
Steve Herndon, a 1990s Georgia offensive lineman who spent four seasons in the NFL, discussed the importance of making good decisions -- a theme Mark Richt and his assistant coaches also touched on before the team broke for the weeklong vacation.
“Each segment coach is going to say his piece, and I’ll say my piece after practice, or I’ll continue it from this meeting we had earlier today,” Richt said.
Needless to say, Richt and company will be holding their collective breath until their players return to campus after last year’s tumultuous spring break. Senior defensive backs Bacarri Rambo and Branden Smith both encountered drug-related issues during the break, plus the news also broke that linebacker Alec Ogletree had a drug issue of his own.
Smith eventually cleared up his Alabama arrest without facing game punishment, but both Rambo and Ogletree missed the first four games before returning to the lineup.
The Bulldogs handled the issues their absences created relatively well in 2012, but this fall might be a different story -- and they understand that reality. With games against Clemson, South Carolina and LSU on the schedule before the end of September, Georgia can’t afford to have a lengthy list of players suspended when the season begins.
“I feel like this offseason and over spring break and all that, I don’t think anybody’s going to get in trouble like they did, some of the guys last year, because they know that they have a chance to play and they don’t want to mess that up this year,” said outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins, one of only four returning starters on defense. “Because everybody’s got a chance to play right now.”
And it’s not just the need to have a well-stocked depth chart that should be important, quarterback Aaron Murray said. Those three big games are what you sign up for when you come to Georgia -- a season-opening visit to Clemson, where the nation will be watching; a home game against South Carolina that likely will play a major role in determining the SEC East champion; and LSU’s first visit to Athens since 2009.
“I think the biggest thing we’ve talked about is you don’t want to miss those first two games,” Murray said. “To be able to go to Clemson and be in that environment, to be on ABC in primetime and then to come back the next week and be us versus South Carolina, which will probably be two top-10 teams -- those two games are going to be a lot of fun, a lot of hype, a lot of excitement.
“You really don’t want to miss it, so I think that’s the biggest message we’re telling our guys is, ‘Hey, don’t do anything stupid. Don’t hurt the team, but also hurt your chance to play in two awesome games.’ ”
Some Georgia players didn’t take that sentiment to heart a year ago, and the Bulldogs still managed to start 4-0 even without the suspended players. But they don’t open against the likes of Buffalo, Missouri, Florida Atlantic and Vanderbilt this year, like they did in 2012. It might be imperative that Jenkins’ prediction comes true if the Bulldogs are to have any chance of making it through September unscathed.