After offseason of change, preseason practices arrive at Georgia

An offseason that began with an entirely new defensive staff coming aboard and brought a wave of player departures—with several sent packing—makes way for preparations that begin in earnest this week for Georgia.

Players officially report on Thursday and preseason football practices get underway on Friday.

Coach Mark Richt was upbeat at SEC Media Days earlier this month, but that was before two player arrests this past week.

“I like the camaraderie of our staff, I like the camaraderie of our team,” Richt said then. “I think our team understands real clearly who’s in charge and I think they are responding really well to that. I think players are taking ownership of work and of leadership.”

Three defensive players who were with the team this spring—including two returning starters — are no longer at Georgia.

Cornerback Shaq Wiggins transferred out and reunited with former Bulldogs defensive coordinator Todd Grantham in Louisville. Safety Tray Matthews was dismissed after a classroom disturbance and an arrest for twice cashing Georgia-issued stipend checks and is now at Auburn. Defensive lineman Jonathan Taylor was kicked off the team this past week after being arrested for felony aggravated assault after a domestic violence incident with his girlfriend, his second offseason arrest.

“Here’s to hoping UGA can put a defense on the field vs. Clemson!” former Georgia punter Drew Butler tweeted Saturday after backup linebacker Davin Bellamy was arrested for DUI, which should trigger a two-game suspension. “We need 11 guys..might have to settle for 10 or less at this pace.”

In all, eight players who were on the Georgia roster in January are no longer including safety Josh Harvey-Clemons, dismissed after two suspensions for violating Georgia’s drug policy.

There were three players dismissed, three transfers (Wiggins, linebacker Paris Bostick and receiver Uriah LeMay) and two medical disqualifications (defensive lineman De’Andre Johnson and linebacker Brandon Burrows).

“There were a lot of changes that happened and a lot of people who were at Georgia that are not there anymore,” senior receiver Chris Conley said. “I think it was kind of a statement to say that we’re going to do things the Georgia way and if that’s not the way you want to do them then you won’t be there.”

Conley said for the team to “move forward,” changes were needed.

“The guys that left were great players,” linebacker Ramik Wilson said before Taylor was dismissed. “We wish the best for them. …We just hope they grow up a little bit more, mature a little bit more and they’ve got their second chance.”

Wilson said he saw a culture change under new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt this spring that continued into summer workouts.

“A lot of people care more,” Wilson said. “A lot of people give more effort and a lot of people want to be great, want to go down in history. Coach Pruitt pushes us. He’s not going to take nothing. He’s not going to take less from you. He wants the best out of you. If you can’t give your best, you’re not going to play. He made that clear.”

Players got a sense of what was coming when Pruitt was hired from national champion Florida State in January.

“Pruitt sent a message the first day he stepped on campus,” said J.J. Green,, who is contending for a starting spot in the secondary at the nickel back position. “If you want to do it and want to get the job done then you’re going to get the job done.”

Those who followed Pruitt’s ways were rewarded by moving up the depth chart.

Sometimes it was a walk-on instead of a returning starter.

“I think they understand any playing time they get, they’ve got to earn it,” Richt said.

“(The new staff has) put in a system of how we’re going to go about our business. The guys are responding well to that. There’s a lot of accountability that goes along with it, as well.”

Wilson said Pruitt can be hard to please.

“He’s all about business,” he said. “He’s not the type of coach that will scream in your face and yell at you when you mess up. He always coaches you up and teaches you what you did wrong and that’s what we need.”