ATHENS, Ga. — Mark Richt found himself talking Monday about the latest Georgia player to be arrested instead of the Bulldogs’ optimism about next season.
During a news conference to preview spring practice, the first question was about the latest of three 2011 Georgia starters who have been arrested – cornerback Branden Smith on a misdemeanor marijuana possession charge in Abbeville, Ala.
Richt said he is “very frustrated” about Smith’s arrest.
“The timing isn’t very good, either,” he said.
Georgia has 15 starters, including quarterback Aaron Murray and two first-team All-America picks on defense – linebacker Jarvis Jones and safety Bacarri Rambo – returning from a team that played in the Southeastern Conference championship game.
The Bulldogs finished with 10 wins and ranked 19th. They could sit much higher in the preseason top 25.
For now, the arrests have overshadowed the outlook for Georgia’s spring practice.
Another starting cornerback, former Westside star Sanders Commings, was arrested on a domestic violence charge in Athens on Jan. 21. Richt suspended him for the first two games of the 2012 season.
On Friday, former Georgia tight end Orson Charles was arrested in Athens on a drunken driving charge. Charles, who was a junior on the 2011 team, left school early to enter the NFL Draft.
Richt said he is still gathering facts on Smith’s arrest. He said he had a brief telephone conversation with Smith.
“First of all, I don’t know all the details yet so I don’t want to throw anybody completely under the bus yet,” said Richt, who added, “I’m not thrilled I’m having to deal with it.”
Smith was pulled over for having no tag light and following another vehicle too closely, and the arresting officer smelled marijuana in the car, Henry County Sherriff William Maddox said. Maddox said less than an ounce of marijuana was found under the back seat.
Smith could be suspended for at least one game, athletic director Greg McGarity said.
A passenger in the car, Dazme Rayshaun Woods, also faces misdemeanor charges.
Smith was released on $2,000 bond Monday. Woods was released on $3,000 bond, higher because he was arrested last week in Abbeville for felony marijuana possession.
Asked by The Associated Press whether the marijuana belonged to him, Smith said “I’m not talking about that.”
With Commings already out for two games, including Georgia’s SEC opener at Missouri on Sept. 8, the Bulldogs’ secondary would be severely stretched if Smith is suspended.
The versatile Smith, a senior, has four career interceptions, including two in 2011, when he started seven games. He had three catches for 39 yards and 13 carries for 100 yards and a touchdown as a spot player on offense. He also had a combined 16 kickoff and punt returns.
Richt said Malcolm Mitchell, who had 45 catches as a freshman last season, will be a full-time cornerback in spring practice and could play on offense and defense this season. Junior Blake Sailors also will have an opportunity to earn more time at cornerback.
Tailback Keith Marshall is one of three 2012 signees who enrolled early and will participate in spring drills. Marshall could push Isaiah Crowell, last year’s SEC Freshman of the Year. Crowell had 850 yards rushing even though he missed two games. A failed drug test resulted in a one-game suspension.
Richt said Crowell is having a good offseason.
“I think that Isaiah is definitely growing up,” he said. “He’s getting there.
“I see a lot of improvement in Isaiah, there’s no doubt.”
The G-Day spring game is scheduled for April 14.