Georgia does not have a discipline problem.
That's what football coach Mark Richt said Saturday when questioned about his team's eight offseason arrests, half of which involved drinking in public, while two more were for illegal driving maneuvers while operating moped scooters on campus.
"There's not a discipline problem on the team at all, I don't think. I don't think it's even close to that. Guys have made some mistakes," Richt said at the Bulldogs' annual media day that precedes the first preseason practice, later adding, "I'm not alarmed or shocked that these guys are making foolish mistakes here and there. Some of them are relatively innocent."
Former Georgia linebacker Akeem Hebron was dismissed from the team this summer after his second alcohol-related arrest of the offseason. He transferred to Georgia Military and given the chance to work his way back to Athens if he behaves well at junior college. Quarterback Blake Barnes and tight end Tripp Chandler were also arrested on alcohol-related charges, while offensive lineman Tanner Strickland was snared for possession of false identification.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Ledger-Enquirer
Running back Caleb King was booked for driving his scooter the wrong way on a one-way street with a suspended license. Tight end NaDerris Ward was arrested for making an illegal pass on his scooter and not having his driver's license in his possession when he was pulled over.
Richt said his staff made sure to cover the regulations for driving scooters on campus when the team reported on Friday, as numerous team members use the mini vehicles to transport themselves around campus.
"Caleb, he knew his license was suspended, but he had no idea that if you're riding on a scooter, you had to have a license to ride a scooter. Now he should've known that and we should've told him, but we've only had him for about a week," Richt said with a smile. "So we had Scooter 101 in our team meeting yesterday. We did have that, I can tell you."
The only potentially more serious arrest was made on walk-on defensive tackle Tripp Taylor, who was booked in conjunction with a brawl on Memorial Day weekend that left a pair of high school boys badly beaten. Taylor was charged only with making verbal threats, however, and the case remains open.
Despite most of the incidents being relatively minor in nature, Richt said they still give his program a black eye. He pointed out that hundreds of students are arrested on alcohol-related charges in Athens each year, but there's an important distinction.
"There's probably about nine of them that were reported on the Internet, TV, radio, newspapers, international Web sites," Richt said. "They've just got to understand that they're without question some of the most well-known people in the state of Georgia."
Center shakeup Backup center Ian Smith's decision to leave the team on Friday will reverberate through preseason camp, as other players will work at the position to maintain the coaches' desired level of depth.
Incoming freshman Ben Harden is one of the players affected by Smith's decision, as is starting guard Chris Davis. Both will crosstrain behind starting center Fernando Velasco and backup Kevin Perez.
"Right now, we've got Perez backing up and we want to give Ben Harden some work at center also," Richt said. "Chris Davis will snap. We usually have four or five guys learning how to snap at all times and then we actively practice two or three centers."
Richt said Smith, who would have been a redshirt sophomore, had struggled with head and neck injuries throughout his Georgia career. He was also arrested twice last year for public intoxication, which resulted in his suspension for three games last season and the first five games of the upcoming season.
Quick hitsFreshman offensive lineman Chris Little was the only Georgia player to work out in a green no-contact jersey on Saturday. Little spent his first practice in Athens in green because of a wrist injury. He didn't complete practice because of the stifling heat Saturday afternoon, instead doing cardiovascular work in the Bulldogs' weight room with a member of the conditioning staff before returning to run sprints after practice. ... Running back Thomas Brown laughed when asked how many times a day he's been asked about his surgically repaired knee. "About 30," he said. Brown tore his anterior cruciate ligament against Vanderbilt midway through last season, but says he'll be ready to play at full-speed in time for the Sept. 1 opener against Oklahoma State. Brown didn't appear to have lost a step on Saturday, the only sign of the injury a red sleeve worn over his right knee. ... Richt announced that incoming freshman Justin Houston has shifted from defensive end to strongside linebacker, the only position change the coaches made to open camp. Richt said the move could be only temporary if Houston's body eventually fills out more in the future to where he can return to end. "I think he felt like he has a much better opportunity to make a difference on this team at sam linebacker this year than as a defensive end. I wouldn't necessarily say it's a career move," Richt said. ... The Bulldogs return to practice this afternoon at 3:20 p.m., the second of a mandatory first five days in helmets and shorts.