Valdosta Daily Times

Local Sports

April 2, 2012

Column: UGA suspensions lead to more playing time for local guys

VALDOSTA — Don’t look now, two more University of Georgia football players will be missing games in 2012 because they didn’t know how to act off the field.

This time, it was All-America safety Bacarri Rambo and inside linebacker Alec Ogletree who were handed down suspensions. Both will miss four games this upcoming season after testing positive for marijuana. According to Rambo’s high school coach, the two consumed brownies containing marijuana over a spring bring trip.

The four game suspensions — games include Buffalo, Missouri, Florida Atlantic and Vanderbilt — come after previous positive drug tests, which resulted in a one-game suspension in 2011.

The trouble for the two defensive studs isn’t a new theme at Georgia. If anything, it has become a normal, reoccurring theme. One that goes like this: players have a lot of talent, perform well on the field, get busted for doing something illegal, get suspended or kicked off the team, and the team suffers the following season.

Whether you are a Georgia fan or not, you know this is true.

Last offseason, it was running backs Caleb King and Washaun Ealey that decided to get into trouble, which led to both backs being dismissed from the team.

This year, it seems like the defensive backs got together and said, “Let’s get into some trouble.”

After all, defensive backs Nick Marshall and Chris Sanders were dismissed from the team, while three others, Sanders Commings, Branden Smith and now Rambo, have been suspended for extended time in 2012.

Combined, the three will be suspended for seven games this season (Commings two games and Smith one game). So, the Bulldogs will be without a complete secondary for over half of the games listed on the regular season schedule.

That is enough for any Georgia fan, like myself, to become disgruntled, irritated and worried.

But, wait. There might be a bright spot to all of this drama up in Athens. Here comes more playing time for some local prospects, former Valdosta Wildcat Malcolm Mitchell and Lowndes’ Josh Harvey-Clemons.

It is hard to think that Mitchell could see even more playing time than what he did last season — minus the three games he missed due to injury, not suspension. But Mitchell wasn’t playing both ways last season. He was strictly an offensive weapon for coach Mark Richt and the Bulldogs. This year, he will be on the field for both offensive and defensive snaps.

Georgia’s plans for him have been clear since January, ever since Mitchell broke the news on his Twitter page. With the depleted secondary, Mitchell can fill in nicely, having played both ways at Valdosta High School.

Although Mitchell has indicated that he wants 101 snaps per game — one more than what former Bulldog, and current Denver Bronco, Champ Bailey averaged during his time in Athens — the UGA coaching staff will be careful with Mitchell, and make sure playing both ways doesn’t hurt his offensive production.

After all, Mitchell, who was recruited as a cornerback but was switched to wide receiver once he arrived in Athens, made an immediate offensive impact in 2011. In his first game, he caught a touchdown pass in a loss to Boise State. The following week, he led the Bulldogs in receiving in a loss to South Carolina. He ended the season as the second-leading receiver on the team. If he hadn’t missed three games with a hamstring injury, he would have likely led the Bulldogs in receiving.

As for Harvey-Clemons, the Bulldogs have to be excited that the signing day drama is behind them, and to be moving forward with their plans for the state’s top-ranked prospect. The only question, to many, is at what position will he make an impact? With the depleted secondary, speculation started to surface that Harvey-Clemons would play safety, instead of linebacker.

On Thursday, Richt answered that question and put an end to the speculation, saying Harvey-Clemons “does have some safety skills, but he is more of an outside linebacker.”

Even though Richt says Harvey-Clemons will play outside linebacker, that doesn’t mean he won’t be helping defend the pass.

After all, Harvey-Clemons isn’t built enough to be the every down bruiser linebacker, not yet at least. So, with his tall 6-foot-5 frame, Harvey-Clemons is perfect to help stop the run, while also making an impact in the pass defense, even if it isn’t from a secondary position.

Richt also said JHC will play wide receiver, especially in the red zone.

With his tall frame, throwing to him in the red zone will excite any quarterback, especially Murray, who lost his high school and college tight end Orson Charles to the NFL draft.

Other local prospects that will be seeing some playing time next season at UGA include: Inside linebacker Mike Gilliard (Valdosta) and tight end Jay Rome (Valdosta), who caught two touchdown passes in the Bulldogs’ spring scrimmage on Saturday.

Ed’s column appears in Monday’s edition of the Times. You can follow him on Twitter @ed_hooper.

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