NCF Nation: Sanders Commings

ATHENS, Ga. -- Damian Swann’s hair isn’t thinning and he doesn’t wake up each morning with chronic back pain, but he does feel like the resident old guy in Georgia’s secondary.

The rising junior cornerback spent his first two seasons surrounded by veterans, but entered this spring as the only defensive back in the Bulldogs’ arsenal with any valuable field experience.

It’s a different feeling for Swann, who is going from student to big brother/teacher, but as spring practice winds down, he’s more comfortable with being the guy who is looked up to in this defense.

[+] EnlargeDamian Swann
Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY SportsDamian Swann broke up five passes and led the team with four interceptions last season.
“It was a challenge [to take on more responsibility this spring], but now it’s going to be even more challenging because I’m kind of the lone defensive back, period, that has established himself in this system,” Swann told ESPN.com Thursday. “A lot of people might look at it as me having to make more plays than I did last year, which is fine because that’s what I want to do.”

He also wants to make sure all the holes left by the departures of corners Sanders Commings and Branden Smith, along with safeties Bacarri Rambo and Shawn Williams are properly filled. These weren’t run-of-the-mill players, either. These were strong, veteran starters that any SEC team would have loved to have.

Now, the Bulldogs have to replace them with a slew of youngsters, mostly freshmen, and Swann feels somewhat responsible for guiding them this year. He isn’t looking to be a father figure, just the best big brother he can be.

Still, taking on a leadership role and having to teach has felt odd at times considering Swann wasn’t even sure how much playing time he was going to get last season.

After playing sparingly as a freshman in 2011, Swann began 2012 as a starter only due to a rash of suspensions in the secondary. With Commings sitting for two games to start the year, Swann said he wasn’t surprised by his heavy playing time, but when Commings returned, he still found himself in the starting lineup. Then, when the Tennessee game arrived in Week 5, he was named the strong corner starter and would stay there all season.

He expected to move back to the nickel at some point, which was fine, but taking over one of the top corner spots left him a bit speechless. He went from 60-70 plays a game to 80-90, which was a lot for a youngster like Swann.

“That was a big push for me, just being a sophomore playing all those snaps in the SEC,” Swann said with a laugh.

Swann started 14 games last year and led the team with four interceptions and also broke up five passes. He even recorded two sacks, recovered two fumbles and forced two fumbles.

Quietly, Swann played a big part of Georgia’s defense last season, but he’s looking for an even bigger role in 2013.

“I want to be the guy that lives up to the expectations, that wants to be in the spotlight, that wants to cover your best receiver,” he said. “It’s going to be a challenge for me, but I’m willing to accept that.”

Swann is actually in an interesting spot. He starts off as the team’s top player in the secondary, but he might not get all the attention he wants this fall. Offenses usually tend to pick on the younger guys, so Swann might not have passes thrown his way as much as he’d like.

That means his teaching skills will have to be that much better as he tries to coach up the pups around him. The good news is after all the time he got last season, Swann thinks he’ll have more time to help than worry about his own game once fall arrives.

“Last season might have been the best thing that could have happened to me and to Georgia because imagine if I wasn’t to play and we graduated all those guys,” he said. “Now, it’s going to a whole entire brand-new secondary with hardly any experience. Me playing as much as I did puts us in a better situation.”


ATLANTA -- In what lacked the defense of a usual SEC game, No. 2 Alabama outlasted No. 3 Georgia 32-28 to claim the 2012 SEC championship. Alabama is now headed to Miami to face No. 1 Notre Dame in the Discover BCS National Championship Game on Jan. 7.

Alabama's game-winning score came on a 45-yard pass from AJ McCarron to a wide-open Amari Cooper with 3 minutes, 15 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.

It was over when: After driving down to Alabama's 8-yard line, Aaron Murray threw a pass to Chris Conley at the 5-yard line that was tipped. Conley came down with the ball with 5 seconds remaining, but time expired before Georgia could run one last play.

Game ball goes to: If you looked up the word "workhorse" in the dictionary, you'd find a picture of Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon next to it. Lacy rushed for 181 yards on 20 carries and had two touchdowns. He registered 176 of those yards through the first three quarters, averaging 10.4 a carry during that time. Alabama's offense was at its best when Lacy touched the ball the majority of times on drives. Yeldon, only a freshman, carried the ball 25 times for 153 yards and a touchdown. His first-down run on third-and-5 on Alabama's final scoring drive set up the Tide's game-winning touchdown.

Stat of the game: Alabama (12-1, 7-1 SEC) outrushed Georgia 350-113 and averaged 6.9 yards per carry in the process -- a new rushing record for the SEC championship game. Georgia (11-2, 7-1) averaged just 3.9 yards per carry. That makes three consecutive games in which Georgia's defense surrendered 300-plus yards on the ground.

Best call: On the first play of the second quarter, Georgia coach Mark Richt stepped out of his shell and called a fake punt on fourth-and-10 at Alabama's 36-yard line. Tight end Arthur Lynch took the snap and zipped a pass to cornerback Sanders Commings for 16 yards. Two plays later, Murray threw a 19-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jay Rome to give the Bulldogs the early 7-0 lead.

What it means for Alabama: The win assures the Tide of making their second straight national championship game and third in four years. Alabama, which is second in the BCS standings, will face top-ranked Notre Dame in the Discover BCS National Championship Game in Miami.

What it means for Georgia: The Bulldogs will miss out on a BCS bowl game and could be headed to the AT&T Cotton Bowl to take on a Big 12 opponent. The last time Georgia was in the Cotton Bowl was 1983, when the Bulldogs beat Texas 10-9.

SEC helmet stickers: Week 5

September, 30, 2012
9/30/12
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Here's a look at the SEC's best from the weekend:

Sanders Commings, CB, Georgia: There wasn't much for Georgia's defense to be happy about in that 51-44 shootout with Tennessee, but Commings came up with some big plays for the Bulldogs. He intercepted two of Tyler Bray's passes, including the one to seal the game when he jumped in front of Bray's final prayer with only seconds remaining in Saturday's game. Commings also registered five tackles.

Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama: The freshman receiver came through in a big way in the second quarter of Alabama's 33-14 victory over Ole Miss when he grabbed back-to-back touchdown passes from 16 and 12 yards out. Cooper was quarterback AJ McCarron's favorite target on the night, as he caught a game-high eight passes and led all receivers with 84 yards.

Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina: You can tell Lattimore is just getting stronger every time get gets out on the field. After carrying the ball just five times for 12 yards in the first half against Kentucky, Lattimore grabbed 18 carries for 108 yards and two touchdowns in the second half. For those counting at home, he finished the day with a season-high 120 yards. He also caught three passes for 16 yards in the 38-17 win.

Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M: It was just another day for Manziel, as he and his teammates walked all over Arkansas' defense. The redshirt freshman wanted a victory badly, and he did all he could to secure the Aggies' 58-10 blowout. He completed 29 of his 38 passes for 453 yards and three touchdowns. He also carried the ball 14 times for 104 yards, including a long of 52 yards, and a touchdown.

Keith Marshall, RB, Georgia: Another freshman makes our list. Todd Gurley might have the better stats on the season, but Marshall was key to the Bulldogs' success Saturday, as he carried the ball 10 times for 164 yards and scored touchdowns from 75 and 72 yards out. His 72-yard scamper late in the third quarter eventually stood as the Bulldogs' game-winning score.

Mike Bobo, offensive coordinator, Georgia: Hats off to Georgia's playcaller. Bobo hasn't exactly been a fan favorite in Athens, Ga., but he made Tennessee's defense look silly with the way he game planned for Saturday. He helped the Bulldogs be extremely balanced in their plays and created the right mismatches to help Georgia run all over the Vols' defense. Georgia registered its third straight 500-plus-yard game by totaling 560 yards against the Vols. The Dawgs rushed for 282 yards and threw for 278. Through five games, there's no question that Georgia has the SEC's best offense, and Bobo's play calling and roster management has been a big reason why.
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia will be without All-America free safety Bacarri Rambo and linebacker Alec Ogletree for perhaps the game where they can least afford for them to be absent. Saturday night’s visit to Missouri pits the Bulldogs against perhaps the most explosive offense they will face all season -- and they’ll do so without four defensive starters.

Georgia coach Mark Richt announced weeks ago that starting cornerback Sanders Commings and outside linebacker Chase Vasser would be suspended for the first two games and now ESPN.com has confirmed that Rambo and Ogletree will join them on the suspended list as continued punishment for failing offseason drug tests.

All four players started games last season -- Commings started all 14, in fact, and Rambo started 13 after being suspended for the opener against Boise State -- and would have played key roles against Missouri’s passing attack.

(Read full post)

LSU wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. knows exactly what Georgia is going through.

Last season, he watched an extremely talented Tigers team deal with a myriad of distractions during their national title run. Even though LSU made it to the big game, Beckham said the path taken was extremely tiresome at times.

“It sucks that you have to wait all that time for the season to actually get started, but you have to do things to keep yourself out of trouble,” Beckham said. “If it’s an extra workout or staying with teammates, you have to do it.”

[+] EnlargeAaron Murray
Radi Nabulsi/ESPN.comDespite a tumultuous couple of months, the Bulldogs had "a very productive and great offseason," Aaron Murray said.
Georgia needed that advice long ago, as the Bulldogs ran into a rash of off-field trouble this spring that leaked over into the summer. What made matters worse was the fact that key starters were involved:

  • Cornerback Sanders Commings was charged with domestic violence/simple battery on Jan. 21. Corner Branden Smith was arrested for misdemeanor marijuana possession during spring break.
  • All-America safety Bacarri Rambo and linebacker Alec Ogletree were suspended for reportedly failing drug tests.
  • This summer running back Isaiah Crowell was dismissed after he was arrested and charged with a felony count of possessing a weapon in a school zone, a felony count of altered identification mark and a misdemeanor count of possession/carrying a concealed weapon.
  • Potential starting linebacker Chase Vasser will serve a two-game suspension following his DUI arrest in May .

Senior defensive end Abry Jones was extremely bothered by the off-field garbage. As things piled up, his patience began to dissolve as he watched a team with so much talent risk throwing everything away with humiliating off-field transgressions.

“It’s real frustrating,” Jones said, “but at the end of the day, when you see people who can’t really control themselves off the field [you realize] it was people who weren’t really in it for the whole team the whole time.”

The Bulldogs are now hoping to take a chapter from LSU’s playbook and make an SEC title run while ignoring the noise surrounding them.

“The off-field distractions are very unfortunate and the things that happened to those guys are very unfortunate,” senior receiver Tavarres King said. “But we’re keeping the main thing the main thing, and that’s winning ballgames, progressing as a team and getting better.

“It’s pretty frustrating, but you get a hold of those guys and you bring them back.”

Getting better and focusing began when the spring nonsense brought things to a boiling point inside Georgia’s locker room. The coaches were flustered and players felt betrayed. That’s when quarterback Aaron Murray and some of the other veterans stepped in to rally the team together.

Murray said the players held multiple meetings in which they discussed how they were wasting the riches in front of them. The silliness not only embarrassed the program but it would eventually keep the Bulldogs from another SEC run if it didn’t stop.

The more meetings they had, Murray said, the more focused and cautious players became away from the field. A real sense of urgency fell over the team, Murray said.

Even after Crowell’s arrest and subsequent dismissal, Murray said players kept moving and had an extremely productive offseason.

“We just want to go out there and play,” he said. “It’s been a long offseason, but it’s been a very productive and great offseason. Guys have worked hard and they just want to go out there and play football.

“It’s definitely been the most successful summer that I’ve been a part of because of the amount of work everyone put in and the amount of time [people put in]. Everyone was extremely focused and understood the goals that we had and were ready to do what was needed to accomplish those.”

Now, it’s time to see how this team reacts when the meat of the season arrives and players get antsy. Games start taking a toll and players need release. How will this team respond?

Maybe the Dawgs should take some advice from a former teammate and someone who witnessed a similar situation in 2011.

“They’ve been through a lot this offseason,” said LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger, who was dismissed from Georgia in April of 2010. “It’s a lot of guys that I know [who got in trouble] and I played with them. They just have to keep focused and stay tough. People are going to say things that they want to say about them -- just like what I went through. You just have to stand by your beliefs and know that you’re capable of doing it.”

With its personnel, Georgia is totally capable of making another run to Atlanta, if not further. But this team has to overcome the distractions that turned their offseason into a circus away from the field.

Coach Mark Richt knows it will be a challenge, but he also believes that he has the right guys to get the job done.

“We got a bunch of awesome guys that are working their tail off for a tremendous season and a tremendous outcome and those are the guys I’m focusing the most on right now,” he said. “I don’t think anybody’s going to let what happened slow them down.”
It's as if Georgia just can't escape off-field storylines during the offseason.

First, we saw the spring arrests of cornerbacks Sanders Commings and Branden Smith. Then, safety Bacarri Rambo and linebacker Alec Ogletree reportedly failed drug tests. Commings is set to serve a two-game suspension, while the others are likely to miss time as well this fall.

Oh, and then there was the whole Isaiah Crowell incident that left the Bulldogs without its starting running back entering fall camp.

[+] EnlargeUGA tackle Kolton Houston
Radi Nabulsi/ESPN.comThe Bulldogs will be without their No. 1 right tackle, Kolton Houston, until an anabolic steroid leaves his system.
Then, came Thursday's events. One incident could be classified as bad luck, as redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Kolton Houston was ruled ineligible because he again tested positive for a steroid he was given after he underwent shoulder surgery before enrolling at Georgia in 2010.

The other? Well, it was another suspension, as Mark Richt announced that potential starting linebacker Chase Vasser will serve a two-game suspension to begin the year following his DUI arrest in May in Atlanta.

While the latter has to infuriate Richt, Houston's situation must be frustrating. Houston, who won the starting right tackle spot this spring, is still testing positive for an anabolic steroid, 19-norandrosterone, that Georgia's medical staff says he unknowingly took after undergoing shoulder surgery in 2009. Georgia's staff has continued to test Houston since he first tested positive for the steroid in April 2010 and insists that he hasn't used the drug again.

Unfortunately, enough of the drug still remains in his system. Georgia pleaded its case to have the NCAA make an exception for Houston, but the NCAA said no way.

"He's been tested probably more times than anybody in the history of college football," Richt told reporters at Georgia's preseason media day Thursday. "We're 100 percent certain he has not continued to take this thing, but it's just never gotten far enough out of his system for him to be declared eligible to play."

Added Georgia associate athletic director for sports medicine Ron Courson: "My hope is to restore his eligibility as soon as we can. ... We feel like we're so close," Courson said. "He's served his penalty. Let's not quibble about two or three anagrams. There's no performance-enhancing aspect. He's paid his due."

Unfortunately, the NCAA can't make an exception for Houston. He's already escaped a lifetime ban after his second positive test, and while you have to feel for Houston, making an exception for him would open up a new can of worms for the NCAA. The NCAA doesn't want to have to deal with similar cases each year because you never know which ones could be true or fabiricated.

I'm not saying Houston's is fabricated, but if he were allowed to play, what's to stop other athletes from experimenting to see if they can use a similar story to slip by the NCAA?

It also means that Georgia's line, which wasn't in the best shape exiting spring, has more concerns to work through. Though Houston had yet to play a down for the Bulldogs, he was still viewed as one of Georgia's top linemen. Richt said sophomore Watts Dantzler now moves into the starting right tackle spot. The bottom line is that this line has to accelerate its development and get some of those youngsters more prepared.

While Houston's situation is out of Richt's hands, he has to make sure that ones like Vasser's stop. This team has too much to lose and can't let boneheaded incidents slow it down.

Georgia has one of stricter discipline policies in the league, but maybe Richt has to do more because you have to wonder if some of these players don't care. If it's so strict, why do off-field incidents continue to pile up in Athens? You could argue that law enforcement there is a bit stricter, but at the end of the day it's the athletes who make these decisions.

I wouldn't blame Richt if he went to bed with his cell phone off.

Georgia has to stop the silliness or its season will be a major disappointment and, unfortunately, Richt will have to shoulder most of the blame from fans.

Georgia running back Isaiah Crowell was arrested on weapons charges by Athens-Clarke County Police early Friday morning.

The rising sophomore was arrested and charged with two felonies and a misdemeanor, according to the jail booking report. He was charged with a felony count of possessing a weapon in a school zone; a felony count of altered identification mark; and a misdemeanor count of possession/carrying a concealed weapon.

Crowell was arrested at about 2:20 a.m. ET after being stopped at a vehicle checkpoint near campus, and he was booked at 3:37 a.m. His bond was set at $7,500.

This is yet again another Crowell-related distraction for the Bulldogs. If things weren't rocky enough after his up-and-down freshman year, Crowell's future with the Bulldogs could be in jeopardy now. Last year, Crowell was benched during the first quarter of the Vanderbilt game for disciplinary reasons and was later suspended for the New Mexico State game after reportedly failing a drug test.

This spring, Crowell vowed to turn things around, and those around him said they had seen a lot of change from the youngster, especially in the maturity department. This, however, appears to set Crowell back a ways.

Georgia's policy is to immediately suspend players from their respective teams if they are charged with felonies. You can bet that coach Mark Richt will absolutely do that with Crowell.

The fact that there was a gun -- with an altered ID number -- in the car that Crowell was driving is a major red flag. We obviously don't know all of the facts, or if the gun was his, but driving a car with a concealed weapon that's basically been tampered with lies on Crowell and his judgment.

That poor judgment could cost Crowell a lot when it comes to being a member of Georgia's football team.

[+] EnlargeIsaiah Crowell
Radi Nabulsi/ESPN.comRising UGA sophomore Isaiah Crowell was jailed following an early Friday morning arrest.
This isn't the first distraction the Bulldogs have dealt with this year. Rising senior cornerback Branden Smith was arrested in early March in Abbeville, Ala., and charged with marijuana possession. Sanders Commings was charged with domestic violence/simple battery on Jan. 21 after police accused him of striking his girlfriend during an argument in downtown Athens, Ga.

Safety Bacarri Rambo and linebacker Alec Ogletree also are expected to be suspended to start the 2012 season after reportedly failing drug tests.

For a team looking to win the SEC and more, the Bulldogs aren't going into fall the right way.

While sitting with Richt in his office this spring, I asked him about Crowell and his jump from his freshman year to his first spring in Athens. Richt said he had certainly seen a difference in the way Crowell approached practice and his obligations away from the football field. He saw a tougher player who battled harder through the nicks he received in practice. He saw a more focused individual away from the field, as well.

But you could also tell that Richt was waiting to see what would happen after the spring. The pressure had certainly gotten to Crowell last year, but it seemed like he was managing it better. But what about summer, when the coaches aren't around?

So far, things haven't gone the way Richt would like.

If the charges are upheld and Crowell finds himself in a more difficult legal situation, Richt also will be in a tough situation. Will it be time to let the troubled back go? Will it be time to move on from the former top high school prospect?

The answer isn't clear right now, but what is is that Richt's other running backs will have to take even more advantage of the carries they receive once fall practice starts, regardless if Crowell is cleared. The coaches seem excited about their two high-profile backs they signed this year in Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley. Marshall enrolled early and impressed this spring, while Gurley was expected to contribute from the start.

Don't forget about redshirt sophomore Ken Malcome. He had a very solid spring and actually was listed as a co-starter with Crowell coming out of spring.

When Crowell is at his best, there's no denying the talent he has. But there's also no denying the headaches he's caused this program. Having a mature, focused Crowell would be a plus for the Bulldogs, but too many distractions can ruin a team, especially one with title hopes like Georgia.

Richt could have a tough decision on his hands regarding Crowell's future.
A lot of votes were cast and it came down to the wire, but the fans have spoken and South Carolina has won the poll battle of the defenses.

With nearly 12,000 votes cast, South Carolina barely claimed first place with 24 percent of the vote. Alabama was second with 23 percent, while LSU grabbed 21 percent. Georgia got 13 percent of the vote while the category of "Other" received 19 percent.

South Carolina is a solid pick when you look at who returns. Defensive ends Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor are back alongside tackle Kelcy Quarles. Clowney and Taylor combined for 20.5 tackles for loss and 14 sacks. Quarles really progressed as the season went on and provided a nice big, disruptive body against the run.

Veterans return at linebacker, with seniors Shaq Wilson and Reginald Bowens in the middle and DeVonte Holloman is back at the Spur, where he's at his best. Seniors D.J. Swearinger (safety) and Akeem Auguste (cornerback) are back in the secondary, as well.

Most of the questions for this defense lie in the secondary, with sophomores-to-be Victor Hampton (cornerback) and Brison Williams (safety) expected to start this fall. Williams collected a start against Florida last year, while Hampton did most of his damage on special teams. Expect offenses to key in on them early.

At this moment, I'd have to go with LSU. The Tigers return one of the best defensive lines in the country, with two potential first-rounders in ends Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery. And LSU's staff is very excited about what Bennie Logan and Anthony Johnson can do at the tackle spots. This line should be the strength of this team and it will make it hard to run and throw on the Tigers. It'll take pressure off the linebackers, which lose two starters.

The secondary loses Morris Claiborne and Brandon Taylor, but the Honey Badger (Tyrann Mathieu) is back and so is Eric Reid, who might be the league's top safety. Keep an eye on Tharold Simon at cornerback. He should be a solid cover corner this fall.

Alabama is down a handful of starters from last year, but don't think that will send this unit into a tailspin. Defensive tackle Jesse Williams is an animal and linebackers C.J. Mosley, Nico Johnson and Adrian Hubbard aren't slouches by any means. Yes, the secondary is a little green, but corner Dee Milliner and Robert Lester should help provide some stability. JUCO standouts Deion Belue and Travell Dixon impressed this spring and youngsters Vinnie Sunseri and Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix look ready to be big contributors.

And with nine starters returning for Georgia, the Bulldogs should have another solid defensive squad this fall. There has to be some worry with four starters suspended for the beginning of the season, but at full strength, this defense will be a handful, especially with one of the best linebacking corps in the country that includes All-American Jarvis Jones, speedster Alec Ogletree and work horse Michael Gilliard. Once Bacarri Rambo, Sanders Commings, Shawn Williams and Branden Smith are all back and together, Georgia's secondary will be potent.
ATHENS, Ga. -- Complacency is always a concern when bringing back a top-rated team or unit. Players can’t hide from the fact that they’re good and everyone around them will make sure they know it and make sure they remember what they did.

Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham doesn’t want his defense, which ranked fifth nationally in 2011, to forget either. But it’s what he doesn’t want his players to forget that has this unit ready to pick up and surpass last year’s success.

“You don’t let guys forget where they came from,” Grantham said. “Don’t let guys forget what got them there and you build from there.”

That’s why Grantham is making sure he gets back to the basics with his players. We’re talking hustling to the ball, right form and playing physical basics. Every year, his plan has always been to go right back to simple fundamentals.

[+] EnlargeChristian Robinson
Radi Nabulsi/ESPN.comChristian Robinson says this defense has the makings of being one of the best ever at Georgia.
Losing those loses a defense.

“To me, you break it down into five phases and you go back every year and you start over,” Grantham said.

Five phases:

  1. Pre-spring workouts
  2. Spring practice
  3. Summer workouts
  4. Fall camp
  5. Regular season

Fundamentals 101 comes in right when spring ball starts. Proper footwork is harped on. Correct field placement is set up over and over. The right tackling technique is perfected … and then perfected again.

In order to combat complacency, the same motions run by All-American linebacker -- and sack master -- Jarvis Jones are run by wide-eyed nervous freshmen. The goal is to have the older guys pick things up quickly and then assist the youngsters. Grantham wants his players to get better individually, but then focus on improving the team as a whole from the ground up.

That’s why Grantham thinks his defense was much better in 2011. Fundamentals made that group even more comfortable in Grantham’s 3-4 and helped it evolve as the season progressed. The Bulldogs allowed 277.2 yards per game (51 yards less than 2010), forced 32 turnovers and recorded 100 tackles for loss for minus-439 yards.

“Yeah, we knew our system better, but I thought we were a more mentally and physically tough team and we played defense the way you’re supposed to play it -- physical and aggressive,” Grantham said. “When you’re all on the same page and speaking the same language, those things can happen.”

This spring, players bought right into what Grantham preached. Rising senior linebacker Christian Robinson said no one seemed concerned about being content. He said players looked at what they didn't do last year as a spark for the spring. Players dwelled on the 35 points given up to Boise State, the 45 to South Carolina, the 42 to LSU and the 33 to Michigan State -- all losses.

Even when players felt good, Robinson said coaches directed them to video screens to bring them down a notch.

“We’re not perfect, so when we go in our meeting rooms we watch the tape and there are always things to get better at,” Robinson said.

And if film work doesn’t help, coach Mark Richt can cut into the confidence when needed.

“You’re really not a great defense until you play great and we haven’t done that in 2012,” he said. “We haven’t had a chance to do that yet. There’s an anticipation of having a chance to be pretty good if everybody keeps it together, stays healthy and does their part.”

One humbling thought is that Georgia will be without four key starters suspended early for poor off-field behavior. The secondary takes the biggest hit with All-American safety Bacarri Rambo and cornerbacks Branden Smith and Sanders Commings out. Inside linebacker Alec Ogletree is also suspended.

Grantham and his players agree that while they’re disappointed in the boneheaded decisions made, they aren’t dwelling on the situation. Grantham used it as an opportunity to create better depth by inserting younger players. He’s no stranger to changing lineups, as he had 11 different ones in 14 games in 2011.

He also received a boost when star wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell moved to corner. He should start the season on defense.

Richt hopes this turns into a situation like last year when linebackers Michael Gilliard and Amarlo Herrera stepped up when Robinson and Ogletree were injured. It also gives coaches a chance to cross train players more, something Grantham prides himself on. (Look at safety Shawn Williams playing linebacker last year).

Earlier this spring, Jones proclaimed that Georgia had the nation’s best defense. Time will tell on Jones’ statement, but after going through the spring motions, at least one of his teammates sees where Jones is coming from.

“We have an opportunity to do something special, as a defense and as a team,” Robinson said. “If we go out and do what we know and what we’ve learned, we could be one of the best ever to play at Georgia.”
We all know that defense wins championships and the SEC is very much a testament to that. Alabama possessed the nation's No. 1 defense last season and now possesses another national championship. Runner-up LSU ranked second nationally.

Alabama ran away with the crown as the nation's and the SEC's best defense, but that title is for the taking in 2012. Alabama is down key players from last year's squad, like linebackers Courtney Upshaw and Dont'a Hightower, defensive tackle Josh Chapman, and defensive backs Mark Barron, Dre Kirkpatrick, and DeQuan Menzie.

SportsNation

Who will have the best defense in 2012?

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    24%
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    19%
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    23%
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    13%
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    21%

Discuss (Total votes: 12,039)

Alabama's defense isn't as green as the 2010 group, but it's still drawing some comparisons to it. That's exactly what the Tide wants to hear. Nico Johnson seems primed to be a true leader at linebacker, while Adrian Hubbard could be a budding star at Upshaw's old position. Defensive backs Robert Lester and Dee Milliner are back and will be joined by a couple of JUCO standouts and talented sophomores Vinnie Sunseri and Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix. Jesse Williams could be a real force at defensive tackle along with end Damion Square.

Then you have LSU. The Tigers lost All-World cornerback Morris Claiborne to the NFL draft and two starting linebackers. Michael Brockers is gone at defensive tackle as well. But LSU is still loaded. The Tigers return Heisman finalist Tyrann Mathieu and Tharold Simon, who should be fine with an expanded role at cornerback. Junior Kevin Minter really stepped up at linebacker last year and should pick up right where he left off. Even without Brockers, the line is solid with future first-rounder Sam Montgomery at one end position and the underrated Barkevious Mingo at the other. The two combined for 17 sacks last season.

Bennie Logan and Anthony Johnson should provide some meat nastiness in the interior, while the very talented Eric Reid is back at free safety.

Georgia and South Carolina both finished the 2011 season ranked in the top five nationally in total defense. South Carolina was third, while Georgia was fifth, respectively. The Gamecocks lost first-round defensive end Melvin Ingram, but return freshman standout Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor, who many thought would be better than Ingram last season. Kelcy Quarles is back at defensive tackle and the coaches think he'll be even better in his second year.

Shaq Wilson and Reginald Bowens, who combined for 96 tackles last year, will grab time at linebacker again, while the very athletic DeVonte Holloman returns to the Spur for his senior year. There are questions in the secondary, but seniors D.J. Swearinger (safety) and Akeem Auguste (cornerback) return.

Georgia returns nine defensive starters. Brandon Boykin is gone at corner, and the Bulldogs will enter the fall with a lot questions in the secondary, especially with starters Branden Smith, Sanders Commings and Bacarri Rambo suspended to start the season. Star freshman receiver Malcolm Mitchell moved to corner this spring and fits right in, but there are depth issues at the position.

Other than that, the Bulldogs are still pretty stacked. Inside linebacker Alec Ogletree will serve a suspension to start the year, but Georgia will fill his spot by committee. Mike Gilliard, Cornelius Washington, Christian Robinson, Amarlo Herrera and Ramik Wilson provide Georgia with a very solid linebacking unit alongside star Jarvis Jones, who racked up 19.5 tackles for loss and 13.5 sacks. Georgia's defensive line should also be pretty stout with the massive John Jenkins and Kwame Geathers battling in the middle. Abry Jones really progressed at end as well this spring.

Or maybe someone else will step up and take the crown ...

ATHENS, Ga. -- Christian Robinson and his Georgia teammates were instructed to block out the noise.

Noise that began well before the 2011 season and bellowed throughout Athens immediately following Georgia’s 0-2 start. The veteran linebacker left Twitter for a week because of all the “hateful” comments he received -- mostly from overzealous Georgia fans.

Things reached a boiling point for Robinson when he saw a picture of a distraught Mark Richt with his headset on the ground during the South Carolina game taped to a professor’s door in Georgia’s Terry College of Business. On it, Robinson said someone wrote something to the effect of “This is like the beginning of the end.”

Every day after his management class, Robinson walked by that picture, taking it personally each time.

Robinson watched as part of a fan base that was supposed to be supportive had turned to its nasty side and it hurt. So Robinson and his teammates channeled that rage. The disrespect became a motivator. The noise became an advantage.

Georgia reeled off 10 straight wins and ended up in the SEC championship game sans picture.

[+] EnlargeMark Richt
AP Photo/Stephen MortonMark Richt says the upcoming season could be a "very special season," if the entire Georgia team buys into his philosophy of earning every win.
“Ten weeks later, where are those posters and where are those hateful tweets, now?” said Robinson who appeared in 12 games last fall, making four starts, recorded 47 tackles with 6.5 for loss and recovered a fumble.

Fast-forward to the spring of 2012 and Georgia is dealing with a new type of noise -- noise of the hype machine.

Georgia returns 15 starters (nine on defense and six on offense) and 49 lettermen. Only two defenders are gone from the nation’s fifth-ranked defense and quarterback Aaron Murray could be an early Heisman contender. Georgia should enter the fall ranked in the top 10 and will have BCS aspirations strapped to its name.

As spring winds down, that sort of talk is merely a blip on the Bulldogs’ radar, but it’s something this team will have to deal with more as the season approaches. So far, Richt has shielded his players from the noise, but once his hands aren’t around them this offseason, he hopes they’ll be smart enough to ignore it.

When asked about maintaining his team’s focus, Richt was reminded of the 2008 team that entered the year No. 1. That team had star power, like Matthew Stafford, Knowshon Moreno, Mohamed Massaquoi, A.J. Green, Rennie Curran and Geno Atkins.

Stafford and Moreno had Heisman aspirations and the entire team expected BCS fame. However, none of it came. Robinson, who was a freshman then, said selfishness and immaturity lingered throughout the team, as Georgia lost three games that season.

Richt said the 2008 team didn’t have the veteran leadership 2012 does. As many as 14 starters were underclassmen in 2008, while 2012 will be filled with vets.

“We have to understand that we have to earn it and nothing's going to be given to us,” Richt said. “We just have to wait and see.

“I hope they’re not believing the hype. I have to make sure they understand that they gotta earn everything they get and I can reference 2008.”

Robinson said this team is smarter and more mature than 2008. Their minds are clearer and their bodies are better. This team has handled adversity, going from an embarrassing 6-7 to a win away from a BCS birth. The focus is right with these Dawgs.

“This is a totally different team,” Robinson said. “You don’t read your press clippings and start believing.”

However, more adversity is on the horizon for the Bulldogs. Georgia will be short staffed to begin the season as defensive starters Bacarri Rambo, Sanders Commings, Branden Smith and Alec Ogletree were suspended for poor off-field behavior.

The distraction of having four defenders out -- three being a part of an already thin secondary -- has truly frustrated Richt and his players, but in a twisted way, Robinson said, losing those players will help the Bulldogs band together even more. Adversity brings the good teams together, he said, and Robinson sees this team working harder knowing it will be down early.

Richt said there have been private meetings to address the boneheaded decisions that have hurt Georgia and expects “many more” before the fall. Murray has also taken it upon himself to be more outspoken about these issues. In the last few weeks, he’s seen a more levelheaded group and hopes it carries over to the fall.

“Our guys understand that you can’t be doing anything too crazy right now,” Murray said. “This could be a very special season. This could be a season you remember for the rest of your life.

“If we work hard, the sky’s the limit for us.”

It’s still way too early to tell what kind of team Georgia will have this fall, but it’s hard not to make the Dawgs a preseason favorite in the SEC East. The schedule sets up nicely (no Alabama, Arkansas or LSU again), the staff is settled and just about everyone is back.

It’s a recipe for success, but then again, so was 2008.
Malcolm MitchellGreg McWilliams/Icon SMIMalcolm Mitchell played receiver as a freshman, but this season he plans on playing corner, too.
ATHENS, Ga. -- In order for Malcolm Mitchell to pull off his quest of playing double duty for Georgia this fall, a major change must occur.

It won’t be so much changing his workout habits. Sure, he’ll work more on quick burst drills and sprints with little time for breaks, but Mitchell’s change will be much more significant to his realm of comfort.

Mitchell must significantly alter his diet if he wants to have the stamina to play both cornerback and wide receiver in the SEC this fall. He’ll have to trash the sweets.

“I always had a problem eating candy,” said Mitchell, who moved to cornerback this spring after catching 45 passes for 665 yards and four touchdowns as a freshman last fall.

Mitchell said that since he was a kid, his diet has mainly consisted of fruit-flavored candy, preferably Starburst jelly beans, and Sprite -- a catastrophic combination of sugar and carbonation.

The 6-foot-1, 184-pounder is used to consuming at least five bags of jelly beans and who knows how much Sprite a week. That’s approximately 1,160 grams of sugar and 6,000 unnecessary calories from jelly beans alone.

“I know that’s going to have to change,” Mitchell said with a laugh.

“I’m going to work for that stamina because I know I want to play both ways.”

Mitchell plans to replace some of that candy with fruits and veggies and will add more water to replace his Sprite intake. He refuses to go cold turkey, but hopes to get down to one bag of candy a week. Maybe.

If Mitchell can get his diet on track, it will make life much easier. He started the spring working primarily at corner, but offensive coordinator Mike Bobo and quarterback Aaron Murray have tried to steal him away as much as they can.

Murray still throws with him and he’ll run the occasional route here and there, but his main focus this spring is to own the cornerback spot. The Bulldogs are dealing with depth issues at corner and the suspensions of two starters -- Sanders Commings and Branden Smith -- for the beginning of the season, so Mitchell’s training has accelerated.

While Mitchell played both receiver and corner at Valdosta High in southern Georgia, he admits it took him some time to get his defensive legs back. The first practice at corner was filled with slipping and sliding and poor technique.

Mitchell only decided to play wide receiver after he saw that A.J. Green was going pro. However, he quickly realized that his heart was still on defense and after talking with his mother just before Georgia’s bowl game last season, he approached coach Mark Richt about the idea of playing some defense in 2012.

“I was never going to be satisfied with myself if I let the opportunity pass,” Mitchell said.

One thing he’ll have to do is brush up on his two-way player history. Mitchell admits he didn’t grow up watching football and has never seen film of past two-way stars, such as Deion Sanders or Georgia great Champ Bailey.

Mitchell got into football later in his younger life, after seeing all the attention his brother received from playing. Jealous of that attention, Mitchell suited up and looked to steal the limelight.

Mitchell is looking to steal it once again and is taking full advantage of his time on defense. Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham has been more than impressed with Mitchell, especially his increased knowledge of the defense.

Grantham said Mitchell can play inside and outside, has premier speed, showcases excellent ball skills and has the instincts to excel at corner.

“He’s a dynamic corner,” Grantham said. “He’s a guy that has the total skill set to be a dominant corner at this level and the next.

“He’s an NFL corner.”

Grantham said that after only a few spring practices, Mitchell is ahead of where past Georgia corners were at the same point.

Murray isn’t thrilled with facing Mitchell in practice and has already been the victim of a few “freakish” plays by the youngster.

“He’s a special athlete,” Murray said.

“He could easily be one of our best corners if he wanted to do that full time and one of our best receivers if he wanted to do that full time. It’s great to see how spectacular of an athlete he really is.”

Richt sees it too. More importantly, he sees a player who doesn’t have to worry about his knowledge of the game. Unlike Brandon Boykin and Branden Smith, who both pulled a little double duty for the Dawgs, Mitchell understands the entire offense. Plugging him in with few offensive reps won’t be an issue from a mental standpoint; so getting him more time on defense shouldn’t drastically hinder his offensive ability.

But can he hold up physically?

“He’s very capable of playing both ways,” Richt said.

“The question isn’t going to be if he knows enough of the system, it’s going to be his stamina and how much is too much.”

The new diet should help.

Mitchell understands that less sugar and more water is just the start. He’s expecting practices and film sessions to intensify and his performances will be scrutinized more.

But it’s worth it. Mitchell wants it and he wants to prove himself because he’s honored to be a member of Georgia’s defense.

“This defense is the best defense I’ve been a part of or even played against,” he said. “Me being over there to help that makes me feel like a better player. To feel like I can help something that’s already great makes me feel better than anything I did last year because how good the players are.

“Just to be a part of it and help out means a lot to me.”
ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia’s football team has the talent to have a very special fall, but the spring has come with unwanted hiccups.

Georgia has dealt with too much suspension and attrition. The most glaring issue for the Bulldogs is that they’ll be without defensive starters Sanders Commings, Alec Ogletree, Bacarri Rambo and Branden Smith to begin the season due to suspensions.

The losses of key starters, especially Commings, Rambo and Smith, who all patrol a pretty thin secondary, have Georgia players and coaches frustrated, but they’re pushing ahead as the second half of spring football bleeds into the true offseason.

[+] EnlargeMark Richt
AP Photo/Stephen MortonSuspensions will leave Mark Richt thin in the secondary to begin the 2012 season.
“It robs some of the momentum that you’re trying to build and trying to create,” coach Mark Richt said. “It doesn’t destroy it unless you let it, but it’s just another thing that needs to be overcome.”

Georgia has had a rash of off-the-field incidents in the past calendar year, and when asked if he thought there was an invincibility complex with some of his players, Richt said he hoped not, but didn’t think that there was a discipline problem with his football team.

“The bottom line is that if there are things that need to be disciplined around here, we’ll discipline them,” he said. “We don’t treat a starter any different than a walk-on. We’ll discipline even if it hurts -- and it hurts sometimes.”

Georgia’s coaches are now having to plug more young players into first-team rotations on defense. While the Bulldogs have a handful of players to use at Ogletree’s middle linebacker spot, the same can’t be said for the secondary.

Georgia had to dip into its offense to get help at cornerback by inserting rising sophomore Malcolm Mitchell, who is coming off a solid SEC debut in 2011. Mitchell has received most of his work on defense this spring, and the consensus is that he’s taking hold of his new position, but offensive coordinator Mike Bobo isn’t ready to totally give Mitchell up to Todd Grantham and Georgia’s defense.

“I don’t plan on losing Malcolm Mitchell,” Bobo said.

In the meantime, Mitchell is looking to help a relatively young secondary in Athens. Coaches and players agreed that two youngsters currently standing out are Corey Moore and Damian Swann.

The depth in the secondary isn’t ideal, but Grantham said he isn’t concerned about numbers, or talent. He’s just looking for the development, and it’s slowly coming.

“The guys that we’ve got here are capable,” Grantham said.

Mitchell’s absence on offense also means that Bobo and quarterback Aaron Murray are both looking for more from younger wide receivers. Murray gushed about rising seniors Tavarres King and Marlon Brown, who Murray said finally looks like he’s putting things together and is actually healthy. Bobo and Murray both stated that sophomores-to-be Michael Bennett and Chris Conley should continue to be reliable targets this fall.

But one player really sticking out to Richt is redshirt freshman Justin Scott-Wesley. Though he sat out last fall and split time between track and throwing sessions before spring practice, Scott-Wesley has really impressed with his speed and athletic ability.

“He’s a track guy, but he’s a big, strong, physical guy,” Richt said. “He’s going to help out a lot this season. There’s no doubt about it.”

Where Georgia would really like to get more consistent this spring is on the offensive line. Bobo sees a lot of bodies there, but he’s still worried about depth. Right now, he likes what he’s seen from Kenarious Gates, Kolton Houston and Chris Burnette, but after that it’s a bit of a mystery.

Bobo said the second half of spring will be crucial to finding capable depth up front.

“We have three guys we feel good about,” he said. “We’re looking to find some depth. We’re actually trying to find five (linemen who can play).”
Georgia's defense appears to be taking two more big hits, as a source at the school confirmed to ESPN.com's DawgNation that safety Bacarri Rambo and linebacker Alec Ogletree will be suspended to start the 2012 season for breaking unnamed team rules.

The news came after a report on Georgia's Scout.com site, dawgpost.com, said that the two starters could sit out two to four games to begin the season.

This also comes after two other defensive starters had run-ins that could have both sitting out the start of the 2012 season as well. Cornerback Sanders Commings will sit out the first two games after being involved in a domestic dispute in downtown Athens in February. Fellow corner Branden Smith will likely sit out at least a game after being arrested on a misdemeanor marijuana possession charge during spring break.

This would be the second time in two seasons that Rambo has had to sit out the Bulldogs' opener. He was suspended last season against Boise State for an unnamed rules violation.

While the school hasn't confirmed the suspensions, this is another huge distraction that Georgia coach Mark Richt, his staff and players have to deal with during a very important spring and offseason. Not only will the Bulldogs be struggling to find bodies to fill in the secondary this fall, but this team must go through every practice answering questions about losing so many key components to its defense. It will have to answer discipline questions. And it will have to keep its focus despite knowing it will be down men to start the year. No matter what the Bulldogs do to focus their attention elsewhere, the loss of these players will surround them.

This not the way a team challenging for back-to-back trips to the SEC championship game wanted to start the spring. The discipline of this Georgia team has been called into question before, but now it appears obvious that something isn't getting through to these players. The feeling of invincibility can only last so long, and Georgia is seeing it wear off faster and faster.

Georgia returns most of the components of a defense that ranked fifth nationally a season ago, but could have just one starter back in the secondary -- safety Shawn Williams -- to start the 2012 season. Against Buffalo in Week 1, the Bulldogs probably won't notice it much, but they'll certainly feel the loss of their starters the next week when they travel to Missouri to take on a more high-powered Tigers offense.

Georgia's secondary got a boost this spring with Malcolm Mitchell moving over from wide receiver, but even he hasn't played on defense since high school. Outside of its four normal starters, this secondary doesn't exactly scream experience, and Georgia's coaches will have to turn to youth to find replacements.

This is a team that should be a favorite in the SEC East this fall, should be ranked in the top 10 and should be in early national championship conversations. The talent and experience is there on both sides of the ball for Georgia to have a special season, but this team is struggling with character issues at the moment and it's holding the Bulldogs back. Distractions can ruin a team and Georgia is being bombarded with them right now.

More problems for Georgia's secondary

March, 12, 2012
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At this rate, Georgia might be holding tryouts at cornerbacks, especially for those first couple of games in the fall.

Rising senior cornerback Branden Smith was arrested early Monday morning in Abbeville, Ala., and charged with marijuana possession. Smith was apparently on his way to Panama City, Fla., for spring break. He's the second Georgia cornerback to be arrested in the past two months. Sanders Commings was charged with domestic violence/simple battery on Jan. 21 after police accused him of striking his girlfriend during an argument in downtown Athens, Ga.

Georgia coach Mark Richt has already suspended Commings for the first two games in 2012, including the road trip to Missouri on Sept. 8.

Georgia has a policy that mandates game suspensions for such transgressions as alcohol and drug arrests. Richt said Monday he was gathering additional information before determining how Smith would be disciplined.

Commings started all 14 games at cornerback last season. Smith started seven games at cornerback in 2011 and has 17 career starts. They were projected as the Bulldogs' starting cornerbacks heading into spring practice with Brandon Boykin departing.

If Smith is indeed suspended for the Missouri game, that leaves the Bulldogs precariously thin at cornerback and means that they will have to play Malcolm Mitchell there even more than originally expected. Mitchell was the Bulldogs' top receiver last season as a true freshman, but Richt has said Mitchell will play both offense and defense next season.

On Monday, Richt said Mitchell would get the majority of his snaps this spring on defense.

Mitchell said last week, "I don't want to come off the field."

He may get his wish, at least early on next season.

The Georgia defensive staff has a lot of high hopes for sophomore Damian Swann, who was already going to compete with Smith for one of the starting cornerback jobs. Swann played in 11 games last season as a true freshman.

Redshirt freshman Devin Bowman would probably be next in line after Swann, and signee Sheldon Dawson will be on campus this summer.

The Bulldogs' depth at cornerback has been slowly dwindling over the past several months. Nick Marshall and Chris Sanders would have both been a part of the cornerback rotation next season, but they were dismissed from the team last month reportedly for their role in a theft of money.

Also, cornerback Jordan Love left the team following the bowl game, while Derek Owens left the team during the season last year.

The Missouri game the second week of the season was already going to be a tough one for the Bulldogs. But if they're as depleted as they look like they might be at cornerback, slowing down James Franklin and that Missouri offense (and doing it on the road) will be a monumental task.

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