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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

Need to Know

Georgia Suspends Rambo and Ogletree

As reported late this evening by DawgPost.com, Georgia will suspend free safety Bacarri Rambo and inside linebacker Alec Ogletree for at least two games, and as many as four games, for a violation of team rules. That duo joins another pair of would-be starting defenders, cornerbacks Sanders Commings and Branden Smith, who have either already been suspended or face a future suspension for offseason arrests. Commings, who was arrested in January on charges of domestic violence, will miss the first two games of the season. Smith has yet to have his suspension formalized after he was arrested on misdemeanor drug possession charges earlier this month.

For at least two games, Georgia and defensive coordinator Todd Grantham will need to cobble together a working secondary out of the bits and pieces left on hand after taking the starting threesome out of the mix. Georgia has ample athleticism and talent to work with, but the Bulldogs will struggle landing the same level of production against the pass while the three serve out their suspensions.

Rambo was an all-American last fall, when he finished second nationally in interceptions. Commings started in all 14 of Georgia’s games last fall, 13 at cornerback opposite the since-graduated Brandon Boykin. Smith was viewed as Boykin’s replacement both at cornerback and in the return game. For his part, Ogletree started all eight of the games in which he appeared a year ago, finishing with 52 tackles, 7.5 for loss.

The lone suspension-related decision that remains to be made is with Smith, who was arrested on March 12. At a press conference shortly after Smith’s arrest, Richt told reporters that the number of arrests — three by that point, if you include tight end Orson Charles, who left for the N.F.L. Draft — was “very frustrating.”

If all four miss the first two games of this season, the Bulldogs will work without four defensive starters against Buffalo and Missouri, the latter on the road. The Tigers have taken the place of South Carolina, Georgia’s usual opponent for the second game of the regular season.

If Rambo and Ogletree miss the first four games — Commings will be back by the third game, and I imagine that Smith will have served out his suspension by this point as well — then they’d miss Buffalo, Missouri, Florida Atlantic and Vanderbilt. Georgia can survive the Bulls and Owls with its second-team secondary taking starting snaps. Can Georgia get past Missouri on the road without all four starters? Or the Commodores without Rambo or Ogletree, should their suspensions run to that length?

Ogletree is the easiest starter to replace. Georgia would have two options at inside linebacker: Christian Robinson or Amarlo Herrera. Robinson’s the more experienced of the two, thanks to his 15 career starts, but Herrera played well when called upon in Ogletree’s absence for a good portion of last season.

When it comes to the secondary, Grantham will need to rely heavily on senior strong safety Shawn Williams, last year’s leading tackler. The Bulldogs won’t only need Williams’ production; they’ll also need his experience, as he’ll be the only returning starter for at least the first two games of the season.

Sophomore Damian Swann will start at one cornerback spot while Commings and Smith are held out of action. He made one start last fall, when Georgia opened with five defensive backs against Coastal Carolina, and played in 11 games. Another option is fellow sophomore Corey Moore, who was used primarily on special teams last fall.

But if recent reports hold true, converted receiver Malcolm Mitchell might take this opportunity and run with it. Moved to cornerback for the spring, Mitchell has already impressed the defensive staff — and upset the offensive staff, which misses him — with his ability to grasp his new position on the fly.

Even if Mitchell can translate his game-breaking ability to the defensive side of the ball, Georgia will be strongly tested by a Missouri pass offense that may be the second-best in the SEC. However, the Tigers have their own personnel issues to address: James Franklin will need surgery after injuring his shoulder on March 20.

In the short term, Richt and Grantham have to address the holes on the defensive side of the ball. In the wider view, Richt needs to button up the off-field issues that have plagued the program since the end of the regular season. For a coach fresh off a feel-good year, with a nice contract extension in his pocket, the arrests and suspensions provide an unwelcome and unneeded distraction — one that has become all too familiar to those associated with the program.

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