HOOVER, Ala. – Michael Lemon may no longer be a part of the Georgia football team but he is still very much in the mind of Mark Richt.
Lemon, you will recall, was dismissed from the program after being arrested on charges of felony aggravated battery and battery (a misdemeanor). But that doesn't mean Richt has forgotten his former player.
On the contrary:
Thursday morning, Richt said dismissing Lemon was the toughest decision he's ever had to make as a coach. That's not all.
Although a long-shot, Richt also said that Lemon could still potentially return to the team sometimes down the road.
"Right now, we are trying to provide a path that could lead him back to Georgia. There is no guarantee of that at all," Richt said. "There are a lot of things that have to happen between now and then that would put him in position to even get that consideration. But that's our goal. That's his goal."
Even if that doesn't happen, Richt said he will stick with the defensive end to help get him back on a personal good track.
"I know that's his goal to come back. My goal for Michael as he leaves this program is to go somewhere where he can continue his education and continue his dream of playing football. I hope for him that it will be at Georgia because that's what he wants and I love him very much," Richt said. "But if it's at another school, so be it.
"I've never dismissed a kid from our team and just said see you later. We always make sure that there is a path for that young man to finish is education, get his degree and become a productive citizen because that is the promise we made to them and their parents when we signed them."
Once Lemon's legal issues are resolved, Richt said that Georgia Military College might be an option.
"I don't rest easy until I know that that guy has a chance to continue on and do well," Richt said. "(GMC) is a possible path. I don't know for sure, but it is a strong contender."
Owens wonders if police targets players
Defensive tackle Jeff Owens was walking to his next media appointment when he was asked by a reporter if he thought Georgia players were sometimes targeted by the police. The senior didn't mince words.
"I'd say we're targeted. You don't agree?" Owens asked his questioner.
There was a pause. "I don't know, you don't agree?" Owens asked again.
The reporter finally agreed.
"It's possible, whose to say?" said Owens, who was then asked if players go into the season expecting arrests to be made.
"(Laughing) I don't want to say that," he said. "You never know when a person is going to get in trouble."
Richt won't vote Dawgs No. 1
Don't look for Richt to vote Georgia No. 1 on his ballot for the preseason Top 25.
"I doubt it. The starting point on my poll has always been the consensus of everybody (magazines, media, etc) and where they put us," Richt said. "We're not a consensus No. 1, although we'll probably be No. 2 or No. 3."
Richt guessed that either Southern Cal or Ohio State would get his vote.
New 40-second rule too late to help Georgia
This year, the NCAA has installed a new 40-second rule, which is now the amount of time teams have between plays.
Richt wonders where this rule was when he first took over the Bulldog program.
"I'm kind of jealous that the timing of it didn't really hit when I needed it to seven years ago," he said. "I'd have been just thrilled because my ambition was to play as fast as we could possibly play, run the no-huddle and be able to be at the line of scrimmage and get the ball snapped in a hurry and run as many plays as possible."
The rule, which is similar to the one used in the NFL, was passed as a way to help speed up the college game.
At the end of every play, the 40-second clock will start. The old rule included a 25-second clock that didn't start until the officials spotted the ball for play.
"All of a sudden you can play as fast as you want to play, although you still can't substitute freely. You can't go from one personnel group to another and snap the ball quickly like we used to be able to do because you've still got to let the defense have time to get in there and have their personnel changes," Richt said. "But I think teams that want to go fast will be able to go fast. Teams that want to stay at the line of scrimmage a lot longer offensively.
"The ball's going to get snapped, the official's going to get out of the way and there might still be 30 seconds, 32 seconds on the 40-second clock. Before, the most you would have would be 24 of 25."
There is another drawback however, that's likely to drive defensive coordinators batty.
"I think you'll see more teams quick-snapping it and you'll see more teams simulating that they're going to quick-snap it," Richt said. " You can try to recognize what's going on then sit there at the line of scrimmage and sit there 20 or 25 seconds to deliberate, which might drive people a little nuts."
Will Stafford go pro?
Richt has seen the projections and the opinions of experts claiming that junior quarterback Matthew Stafford would be the top pick in the 2009 NFL draft if he elected to leave early.
But would he?
"I'm not shocked by that rating. I hope he's the top pick in the draft – two years from now," Richt said. "That's what I hope. I'm sure Matthew will have to make some tough decisions when the season is over but I know he came here to win a lot of games. He came here to win championships. He came to play great as a collegian.
"I know he doesn't feel like he's reached his full potential as a college player and as a Georgia Bulldogs yet, although this is a very exciting time for him."
Bulldog fans have much to look forward to.
Richt said that Stafford is in the best shape of his life, and thanks to an ever-improving offensive line, is quite capable of putting up some impressive numbers this fall.
"He played as a true freshman and it's hard to be very impressive and last year he played behind three freshmen on the offensive line," Richt said. "We had to do a lot of managing there. It wasn't like he could drop back and pat the ball three times before throwing it to the receiver that he wanted to throw it to.
"We had to do it with smoke and mirrors a lot last year. This year, as we begin to mature around him, I really think you'll start to see him have some more productive efforts as far as numbers go."
This and that...
Richt said that fullback Brannan Southerland (foot) is still healing on schedule and that the original 16-week recovery period remains the prognosis. "Brannan's good. I don't think he's had any setback. It's still in the 12-16 week range, and hopefully it's closer to 12 than 16." If the 16-week recovery time is correct, that would put Southerland back for the game at Arizona State on Sept. 20. … Richt was asked about Georgia's receivers and potential starters. While he named Mohamed Massaquoi as an easy selection, he said the other starting spot is up for grabs. Senior Kenneth Harris is also atop the depth chart, but Richt did not rule out any number of players claiming the job, including "a freshman."