BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – And away we go!
SEC Football Media Days gets under way this morning, and with it the 2016 college football season is unofficially launched.
Georgia is not here yet. The Bulldogs don’t rolled into town and make their appearance at The Wynfrey Hotel until early Tuesday morning. Their traveling party – including head coach Kirby Smart, tight end Jeb Blazevich, center Brandon Kublanow and defensive back Dominick Sanders — will fly in and out via charter plane the same day.
Monday’s activities get started with a late-morning appearance from second-year SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey. That will be followed by Auburn coach Gus Malzahn and the Tigers’ three player representatives. Two of them are Georgians, defensive linemen Montravius Adams and Carl Lawson.
The afternoon session will feature defending SEC East champion Florida and coach Jim McElwain, followed by the Vanderbilt contingent.
From a Georgia perspective, here’s a few things you should know Monday:
1. Disciplinary discussions continue
While the Bulldogs don’t take the stage at the Wynfrey until Tuesday, there’s a good chance we’ll hear from UGA on Monday with regard to Jonathan Ledbetter’s recent arrest. Neither Smart nor the school have made an official statement about the sophomore defensive end’s DUI arrest early Sunday morning. It’s unlikely that the Bulldogs want that situation to linger unresolved into the team’s appearance before the media here on Tuesday. So an announcement on that front could be coming Monday.
What that decision will be is not an easy call. Ledbetter had been suspended one game before his charges for underage consumption and possession of a fake ID were dismissed in late May. But Smart never confirmed whether or not his initial suspension would stand. Now comes the DUI charge, which, if substantiated, usually carries a two-game suspension, per athletic association policy. So a three-game suspension is a possibility.
What is NOT likely to happen is UGA deciding to dismiss Ledbetter. With two alcohol-related arrests since late March, Ledbetter appears to be dealing with a substance-abuse issue. It’s more likely that the school will focus its efforts on seeking counseling and treatment for the Tucker product.
2 Kirby on the big stage
When the Bulldogs do finally arrive, there surely will be a lot of attention on Smart. He’s well known and well-respected in these parts as Alabama’s defensive coordinator and Nick Saban’s right-hand man for nine years. The Alabama press really didn’t get to hear that much from Smart while he was around. As part of Saban’s control-the-message philosophy, Smart’s public appearances and commentary were limited.
Smart has been relatively limited in his access as Georgia’s head coach as well. Generally his public-speaking appearances have been brief and his question-and-answer sessions short and to the point. In the media days format, however, he’ll spend an extended amount of time answering questions in front of a ballroom filled hundreds of reporters, then rotate through rooms reserved for television, radio and Internet reporters.
The often hoarse Smart will definitely put his fragile vocal cords to the test.
3 Under-the-radar Dogs
Georgia’s appearance here will be unusual in another respect: There’s not a lot of star power coming to town. In years past, the Bulldogs almost always have brought at least one player here who would be considered an all-conference candidate if not a bona fide all star. But that’s not the case this year.
In fact, using Athlon’s preseason All-SEC team as a reference, Georgia does not have one first-team All-SEC player on its roster this year. Of course, the Bulldogs’ situation is more than a little muddled by injury. Athlon lists both Nick Chubb (knee) and Sony Michel (arm) as second-team All-SEC, and that was before the ATV accident that broke Michel’s arm.
The only other second-teamer listed is offensive lineman Greg Pyke, a senior who played right guard last season but will play right tackle this one. Sanders seems underrated as a third-team mention, and that’s also where Athlon has DT Trent Thompson and the center Kublanow as well. Likewise, Isaiah McKenzie probably feels a little disrespected as a fourth-team punt returner. That’s on the same level as one of Georgia’s quarterbacks — freshman Jacob Eason.
4. Commitments keep coming
Sunday was a big day for the Bulldogs on the recruiting front, capping off what was an extremely fruitful week. Georgia landed two more blue-chip commitments for the class of 2017 in running back Toneil Carter and offensive lineman Andrew Thomas.
Carter, a 5-foot-11, 200-pound back out of Houston, is rated the No. 5 running back in the country, according to 247Sports.com. Thomas (6-5, 320, Atlanta) is ranked No. 10 among offensive tackles. They give the Bulldogs commitments four players in the last week who are rated four stars or better and 15 overall for the Class of 2017.
5. Another Bulldog headed to Olympics
Another Bulldog punched her ticket to Rio on Sunday, and Kendell Williams did it in dramatic fashion.
The Marietta native posted or matched five personal records out of her seven events in the heptathlon, including two on Sunday, to record a UGA record 6,402 points and finish third. It was the second-best score in history by a collegian outside of the season. First was Jackie Joyner-Kersee (6,718 points in 1985).
The top-three finish assured Williams a trip to the Rio Games in August. She becomes the Bulldogs’ second Team USA member, joining Keturah Orji (triple jump). Overall, there are 10 current or former Georgia team members headed to the games representing their respective countries.