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.”
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:
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.”