For the second time this offseason, Georgia announced the dismissal of a starting safety on Tuesday, as Tray Matthews’ career as a Bulldog came to a close.
According GeorgiaDogs.com, Georgia head coach Mark Richt offered a particularly curt explanation for Matthews’ dismissal saying simply, “We are trying to make room for guys who want to do things right.”
Although news of the star safety’s release was sudden and spread rapidly, it was not altogether surprising given recent history. Most recently, Matthews was one of four Dawgs arrested on the eve of spring practice in a check fraud scheme involving stipends received from the athletic department. Punishment for the arrests had not yet been announced.
And yet, just last week, Mark Richt expressed optimism regarding Matthews' future. According to Seth Emerson of Macon's Telegraph, Richt had plenty to say about the potential maturation of Matthews, who started six games as true freshman in 2013.
"I think he's on a turning point of maturing some, and becoming a very dependable guy," Richt commented to Emerson. But he tempered that stance by adding, "I'm not saying he is a dependable guy, or has been at this point. But I have a feeling that that's his desire to become that. And he needs to. It's time."
Obviously, Matthews did not reach that point of inflection—at least not in Richt's eyes. While specific details regarding Matthews' dismissal have yet to emerge, Georgia fans must now face another offseason of negotiating an all-too-familiar conflict of sentiment.
Mark Richt's laudable stance as a disciplinarian has made the Bulldogs task on the field all the more difficult.
For every "Mark Richt has lost control" joke told, there's a piece of anecdotal evidence that suggests Richt's primary objective is to build character and conduct business—both on and off the field—in a manner befitting of his coined "Georgia Way."
And to Richt's credit, his "Georgia Way or the Highway" standard has not been mitigated in the slightest, not even by some of the biggest stars in recent Georgia history. Several notable Georgia contributors have been dismissed from the team over the past several seasons for on-going behavioral shortcomings. Countless others have faced suspension for failing to meet requirements.
Even a player of Matthews' caliber, a 4-star recruit, according to 247Sports, and one of the most promising players on the young 2013 defense, is not immune to the lofty expectation set by Richt. And in the most literal and holistic sense, that's a very good thing.
Richt does not bend to the wills of even the most talented athletes.
Days like today—frustrating as they may be—serve as a reminder that even after 13 seasons at the helm in Athens, Richt is still very much in control of his program.
Despite all these positive externalities, even the most casual of Georgia fans knows Tray Matthews' dismissal hurts the on-field product. Even worse, so did the dismissal of Josh Harvey-Clemons a few months back.
On one hand, Georgia has all its desired personnel to rebuild a defense that struggled more often than not in 2013. New defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt is fresh off a national championship with the Florida State Seminoles, and he's expected to revitalize the unit, particularly the team's defensive backs. For the most part, Georgia fans seem pleased with the other hires brought to town.
But on the other hand, the rebuilding project was never going to be overnight. The spring game in April was more indicative of the long road ahead than of the progress already made under the new regime. And while the front seven may return a wealth of talent and experience, the major questions for this defense in 2013 all revolved around the secondary.
The same can be said for 2014, but now the unknowns are amplified thanks to the loss of Harvey-Clemons and Matthews (and to a lesser extent, cornerback Shaq Wiggins).
Make no mistake about it: Georgia will enter the 2014 season without its two best safeties. As a result, the onus of rebounding now falls on the shoulders of Corey Moore, a senior who's never been able to lock down a starting spot, sophomore Quincy Mauger and redshirt freshman Tramel Terry. Moore and Mauger could have been capable backups. Nobody knows what to expect out of Terry, who missed last season with an injury.
Now, these three unproven safeties are—for better or worse—the catalysts for the development of Pruitt's first Georgia defense. That could be a good thing, but for now, all Dawg fans really know is that none of those guys is Tray Matthews.