Five crews from TV stations out of Atlanta were waiting for Georgia football coach Mark Richt in the room in the Butts-Mehre building where his regular post-practice news conferences are held usually with media members numbering in the single digits.
“Big group for Day One,” Richt said following his team’s first spring practice.
They were waiting to question him about four of his players arrested Monday night for twice cashed UGA-issued checks for athletes on scholarship.
Safety Tray Matthews, defensive lineman Jonathan Taylor, defensive end James DeLoach and wide receiver Uriah LeMay each were charged with multiple misdemeanor counts of theft by deception.
“It’s a distraction,” Richt said. “I imagine there’s more people here today because of that. I don’t know. Maybe ya’ll wanted to hear about football.”
It wasn’t long after word began to spread late Monday night about the players arrested that a prominent national college football voice weighed in on Twitter.
“Clearly some of the UGA players take advantage of Coach Richt’s forgiving heart. No fear of the consequences leads to ongoing (shenanigans),” ESPN/ABC’s Kirk Herbstreit tweeted.
That drew beg-to-differ responses from Georgia fans who pointed out Georgia’s strict drug testing policy and the dismissal of players Nick Marshall (Auburn) and Zach Mettenberger (LSU), who found success at other SEC schools.
Kevin Butler, the College Football Hall of Fame kicker from Georgia, posted on his Twitter account: @KirkHerbstreit your dead on Kirk ….. No consequences, no fear… just plain stupidity every year. Embarrassing for University.”
By early afternoon, Herbstreit and Richt spoke by phone, Herbstreit tweeted they were able to “express ourselves clearly,” and his respect for Richt.
After practice, Richt was asked if he ever gets tired of defending his program and dealing with criticism from the outside.
“Everybody wants to do that,” Richt said. “I think that if you took 125 students at Georgia or anywhere else in the country and you just said, ‘I’m going to follow these 125 people and I’m going to see what they do.’ I think you’d probably find a little bit of this and a little bit of that along the way. But because our guys are so ….and our sport is so high profile, the SEC is high profile, Georgia is high profile, every time something happens everybody knows about it. So we deal with it.”
Richt cut off questions related to the arrests and how he disciplines players after five.
“That’s about all I’m going to say about that,” he said. “but if we want to talk about football again, I’ll keep talking.*
No Georgia players were available for interviews Tuesday, but that was the plan before the arrests.
“Ready for our first spring practice!” Matthews tweeted at lunchtime.
All four of the players who were arrested practiced Tuesday.
DeLoach charged into a blocking dummy at one point during a drill.
Richt said there was “a lot of energy, a lot of hard work,” in the first practice with new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt and new defensive assistants Tracy Rocker, Kevin Sherrer and Mike Ekeler.
“I was pretty impressed with the fact that our defense could get lined up as quickly as they did,” Richt said. “The offense was going fast-paced and high-tempo, and the defensive coaches got the boys lined up.”
Pruitt was quite animated telling the defensive backs he’s coaching in a drill “to keep your hands up, keep your hands up,” and then took off his cap to make his point and told them they would repeat the drill.
“That’s how we’re going to play!” he yelled.
Good thing he wasn’t miced up.
“Yeah, Jeremy, he’ll get after it,” Richt said. “Don’t know if everything was on audio, hopefully there’s no audio out there.”
There was an encouraging sign with Todd Gurley.
Richt said the star tailback “didn’t do anything” in the offseason conditioning mat drill program after dealing with ankle and hip injuries as a sophomore, but he practiced on Tuesday in the non-contact session.
“He made it through the whole practice pretty good,” Richt said. “We’ll see how it goes once we put pads on and all that. I don’t know if we’ll have any limitations or not.”
Three players coming back from ACL surgery are also practiced in non-contact jerseys. Receiver Malcolm Mitchell was catching passes early but got a little sore, Richt said.
He added: “I think there’s a chance he could run some routes competitively. He certainly could run some routes versus air. Whether he’ll go against a defender or not, I don’t know about that yet.”
Tailback Keith Marshall did “a little drill work,” and some run polish, Richt said. Cornerback Reggie Wilkerson worked in a non-contact jersey.
Tight end Jay Rome (foot) and receiver Justin Scott-Wesley (knee) did not practice. The team returns to practice on Thursday.