- David Ching, ESPN Staff Writer
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Oddly enough, Alec Ogletree returns from a six-week absence to find Georgia's linebacking corps in better shape than when he left it in the Bulldogs' season-opening loss against Boise State.
The position group was extremely shy on game experience -- Ogletree himself made his first start at linebacker after finishing the 2010 season as one of the Bulldogs' starting safeties -- but junior Mike Gilliard and true freshman Amarlo Herrera performed admirably when starting inside linebackers Ogletree and Christian Robinson went down with foot injuries in Georgia's first two games.
Not that watching Gilliard and Herrera hold down the fort made it much easier for Ogletree to watch from the sidelines.
"It's been hard for me as far as just wanting to be out there, but at the same time trying to be a team player and support the guys while they're out there playing," Ogletree said Wednesday after his first full practice back from the broken foot that forced him to miss the last six games. "I just tried to get my foot better to get back out there."
Still, now that he and Robinson are back in the rotation, Ogletree realizes the Bulldogs enjoy proven depth at their position that didn't exist when the season started.
"It works out real well for us," Ogletree said. "Not wishing this on anybody, but if somebody was to go down and the coaches want us to rotate in, we've got enough guys to do that. When you're out there playing, it helps out a lot."
The only five-star prospect in Georgia's 2010 signing class, Ogletree was circled as a potential breakout star at linebacker before this season before the foot injury knocked him out in the first quarter against Boise State. But those expectations immediately returned on Wednesday, according to defensive coordinator Todd Grantham.
With starting safety Shawn Williams suspended for the first half of the Bulldogs' next game against Florida, Grantham could have been tempted to use Ogletree at safety, but he shot down that notion after Wednesday's practice. He's too excited about what Ogletree brings to the defense at linebacker.
"I think we're past that," Grantham said. "I think he has shown up as an inside linebacker. I think he'll be really good there. It was good to see him out there, and I look forward to watching him play. It was exciting. He looked good today. I was fired up."
Ogletree wasn't the only linebacker who returned to an active role this week.
Outside linebacker Cornelius Washington sat out Georgia's last two games following an arrest for speeding and driving under the influence in the early morning hours after the Bulldogs' win against Mississippi State.
He met with reporters for the first time since the incident after Wednesday's practice, saying, "It's been a real humbling experience. I learned a lot, and I'll take that experience and learn a lesson and move forward."
The Bulldogs were out of town at Tennessee and Vanderbilt for the two games Washington sat out, so he was forced to watch from home. That made the error of his ways sink in, particularly late in last Saturday's win against Vanderbilt, when the Bulldogs nearly allowed a big lead to slip away.
"I'm glad we won, don't get me wrong, but I don't like when we win and I didn't contribute. That's been the worst part about it," Washington said. "And then when they get in a bind and I know I can help -- watching on TV, I can see everything that's going on, and I know what the situations are that I can help in, so that part of it was troubling. I'll take it as a learning experience, and now I'm trying to get ready for Florida."
Washington is second on the team with 3.5 sacks and is tied for second with 4.5 tackles for loss. He enjoyed the best game of his career against Mississippi State with two sacks, only hours before his arrest.
"Coming off that game and then having that happen is detrimental," Washington said. "It hurt a lot, but you've just got to learn a lesson and try to move forward."
Grantham gives his outside linebackers plus and minus grades when grading film, and freshman Ray Drew was pleased after the Vanderbilt game that "I had more pluses than minuses, so that's always a good thing."
Of course, Drew's statement also came with this laughing admission: "That's really the first time I actually got a chance to get in enough to get graded."
With Washington and Jarvis Jones playing well early in the year, Drew's services weren't particularly necessary. But the star freshman recruit got more of an opportunity in Washington's absence and produced his best performance against Vanderbilt.
The SEC named Drew as its co-Freshman of the Week after he made three tackles, 2.5 for a loss, and forced and recovered a fumble against the Commodores.
"The Tennessee game, I got out and got a few reps. It took me a while to get a feel for the game then," Drew said. "I think I adjusted pretty well there in the latter part of that one. But this week coming into this one, I knew I had a game under my belt and I wasn't as nervous, so I cut loose and did what I was coached to do."
And Georgia's coaches took notice, according to head coach Mark Richt.
"He's getting more reps, of course, and he's starting to make some plays," Richt said. "It takes time to get comfortable in the system and once you start playing, I think the confidence really gets boosted -- especially now that he's been named freshman of the week and all that kind of stuff. It can't do anything but help his confidence and the confidence in the coaching staff for him. I know Coach Grantham felt pretty good about how he played."
Sturdivant to return?
Injured offensive tackle Trinton Sturdivant gave an interview this week with the UGA student newspaper, the Red & Black, saying that he plans to seek a sixth year of eligibility and return to the team next year to play tight end.
Richt was non-committal about Sturdivant's return.
"Trinton and I did have a conversation a little bit about that. I think Trinton and I need to have another conversation about it," he said.
Sturdivant missed the entire 2008 season and all but a quarter of the 2009 season with torn anterior cruciate ligament injuries. He suffered a third torn ACL prior to this season and is expected to miss another full season.
Safety Bacarri Rambo (toe) did not practice Wednesday after injuring himself on the final play against Vanderbilt. Cornerback Brandon Boykin also missed practice as he was completing "that next stage of getting his teeth fixed from the time he got his teeth hit" on a kickoff return against Mississippi State.
Former Georgia receiver A.J. Green, now a star rookie with the Cincinnati Bengals, attended the Bulldogs' practice on Wednesday. The Bengals have an open date this week. ... Georgia punter Drew Butler is one of 10 finalists for the Lowe's Senior CLASS Award, which goes to student-athletes who excel both on and off the field in four areas of excellence: community, classroom, character and competition. The ESPN Academic All-American graduated cum laude with a degree in telecommunications and a GPA of 3.62 in May and is pursuing a master's degree in sport management. He is a two-time finalist for the Ray Guy Award, which goes to the nation's top punter, and won the award in 2009. ... Richt said his bye weekend plans include going to watch his son Jon play quarterback for Mars Hill (N.C.) against Lenoir-Rhyne on Saturday afternoon and to watch son David sing and play keyboard in a concert in Atlanta on Sunday night.
David Ching covers University of Georgia sports for DawgNation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
LB Alec Ogletree returns from injury to find his position group has gotten stronger and gained experience.