ATHENS – The Bulldogs found out on Wednesday they would be without two defensive starters for the Florida game on Oct. 29. They also added two more with the returns this week of Alec Ogletree and Cornelius Washington.
For defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and his staff, being able to mix and match the lineup is old hat at this point. Thanks to injuries and suspensions, Georgia has utilized seven different starting lineups in seven games this season.
There’s a 100 percent chance it will be 8-for-8 against Florida in Jacksonville on Oct. 29.
“I’ve always said you rank your players and figure out your best combination for that week,” Grantham said Wednesday. “That’s what we’ve done every week. Guys have been in and out. We really haven’t played a game yet with what started out as our first 11. That’s OK, too, because guys have worked hard and built a lot of mental toughness on our defense and are finding a way to finish.”
Despite losing Ogletree and fellow inside linebacker starter Christian Robinson for multiple games due to injuries in the season’s first two weeks, Georgia made it to the eighth week of the season ranked No. 8 nationally in total defense.
Now they’ll have to adjust yet again as noseguard Kwame Geathers and strong safety Shawn Williams – who have started 10 games between them this season – have been ordered by the SEC to sit out the first half versus the Gators due to unsportsmanlike infractions in the Vanderbilt game.
“I just told them whoever is going to play in their place needs to play hard enough to where when these guys get in during the second half we’re still in contention in the game,” Georgia head coach Mark Richt said. “Somebody’s going to have to step up.”
Grantham and Richt anticipate junior John Jenkins, who has started the last two games and alternates regularly with Geathers, to simply get more snaps at noseguard in the first half. Defensive end DeAngelo Tyson, who played noseguard last season, will slide inside when Jenkins needs a breather in the first half.
As for Williams’ strong safety position, there’s a good chance cornerback Sanders Commings will move there. Commings started at safety when Bacarri Rambo was out for the season opener against Boise State. Branden Smith and/or Damian Swann could fill in at the corner, where they already get a lot of snaps.
Getting Ogletree and Washington back softens the blow.
Starting “Mo” linebacker Ogletree missed the last five games with a broken bone in his right foot. He entered the season with a reputation as potentially Georgia’s most dynamic defensive player. Washington started the first five games at weakside outside linebacker before his Oct. 2 DUI arrest led to a two-game suspension. Robinson, the starting “Mike” linebacker, missed two games and parts of a third with an ankle injury.
Michael Gilliard, Amarlo Herrera, Chase Vasser and Ray Drew all have filled in admirably.
“Guys have stepped up and embraced their roles and some have taken advantage of their opportunities,” Grantham said. “Moving forward we’ll do the same thing, plug guys in and keep moving.”
One option that Grantham took off the table is moving Ogletree back to strong safety.
“I think we’re past that,” he said. “I think he has shown up as an inside linebacker. I think he’s really good there.”
Grantham on SEC decision
Grantham said he wasn’t sure what might happen as the SEC mulled his fate for last Saturday’s postgame confrontation with Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin. But he was clearly happy Wednesday to have it behind him.
“To be honest, I wasn’t sure about anything,” Grantham said. “I’ve pretty much said what I’m going to say and moved forward. We’ve got an opportunity to get better this week. That’s what you use the open week for, to get better. We obviously have a big game next week so we’re preparing for that. I’ve moved on and we’re moving forward.”
Grantham did, however, express regret for his actions and said that his outburst is not a reflection of Georgia’s defense.
“I tell our guys you want to play hard from the snap of the ball to the end of the play,” he said. “After that, get back in the huddle. During that time you play hard, you play fast and you play physical. We’ve done that and had very few penalties on defense all year.”
Richt mum on video comments
A Nashville television station released Wednesday an unedited version of video that captured the postgame exchange between Richt and Vanderbilt coach James Franklin. Richt’s voice is nearly inaudible on the video but, according to an transcription being distributed on the Internet of that conversation, Richt uses an expletive to describe Williams, who is accused by Franklin of “rubbing our faces in it.”
Richt was asked after practice Wednesday whether that transcription was accurate.
“I don’t have a comment on that; I don’t think it’s worthy of a comment,” he said. “But I wasn’t happy after the game. I can say that. I wasn’t happy.”
Asked why he was upset, Richt said: “The thing I was bothered by mostly was, the game’s over, it was a great game, let’s all go shake hands and say good luck. Let’s do that. Can we do that? That’s my goal personally and that’s my goal for our football team and that’s how I want to operate from this point forward. Hopefully that will be the case.”
Stafford takes up for Richt
Former Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford, who is now starring for the Detroit Lions, was asked the “hot seat” question Richt on a teleconference call with reporters on Wednesday. Stafford’s Lions play the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.
“I’ve always been a huge Mark Richt fan,” Stafford said. “He’s one of the huge reasons I went to Georgia from Texas. I think he’s great for that program, he’s great for the community, he’s great for the kids in that program. They’ve really started stepping up and playing better these last couple of weeks. They lost to two really good football teams the first two weeks. They are a young team in many spots, still learning the defense and acclimating to some new players they are mixing in. I have total confidence that he will get the job done, for sure.”
Etc. . . .
Georgia cornerback/kick returner Brandon Boykin missed practice while undergoing a dental procedure on Wednesday. Boykin busted his mouth and several lower teeth on a kickoff return against Mississippi State on Oct. 1. . . . Bacarri Rambo also sat out portions of Wednesday’s full-contact workout due to a turf-toe injury. It’s not expected to limit his play against Florida. . . . Wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell was on the field in a green jersey but did not dress out in full pads and did participate in most drills. . . . Tailback Carlton Thomas dressed out but remained in green with an undisclosed leg injury. . . . Former Bulldog A.J. Green attended Georgia’s practice Wednesday. The Cincinnati Bengals’ star receiver was in town on an off week.