ATHENS, Ga. - Georgia will employ its eighth different defensive starting lineup of the season Saturday afternoon when the No. 22 Bulldogs take the field against Florida in Jacksonville, and the mixing and matching will just be getting started.
Sophomore inside linebacker Alec Ogletree is back after breaking his foot during the first quarter of the season opener against Boise State, and junior outside linebacker Cornelius Washington returns following a two-game suspension for a DUI arrest. Yet the Bulldogs won't have their entire defense intact until the third quarter, when junior strong safety Shawn Williams and sophomore noseguard Kwame Geathers come off suspensions they received for their actions in the Oct. 15 win at Vanderbilt.
"We haven't played a game yet where we've had all of our starters," junior safety Sanders Commings said. "We aren't going to have those guys the first half, but in the second half we're finally going to have our whole defense playing. We've got 'Tree' back in the middle, who's extremely fast and can stop some of Florida's speed.
"I think the defense will come out more hyped in the second half than we will in the first half."
Ogletree lasted just two series against the Broncos, and the Bulldogs already were a man down because junior free safety Bacarri Rambo served a one-game suspension for violating team rules in the offseason.
A week after Ogletree got hurt, the Bulldogs lost junior inside linebacker Christian Robinson with a foot injury. Robinson missed two games before easing back in, and producing in their absence have been junior Michael Gilliard and freshman Amarlo Herrera.
When Washington got suspended, it allowed more playing time for sophomore Chase Vasser.
"We've had a lot of guys step up, so we know what we have, but we don't know what we're going to have with everybody together," Vasser said. "It's going to be very exciting."
There has been some awkwardness this week preparing for the Gators knowing that two prominent defenders must sit out the first 30 minutes. Coach Mark Richt said covering for Geathers, which can be done by inserting junior John Jenkins or by playing without a nose in nickel packages, will be easier than covering for the versatile Williams.
"We are glad we are getting them both back in the second half, I can tell you that," Richt said. "The challenge to the players would be that whoever plays in their place to step up and take care of business. That way when those guys get back, we are still in position to win the football game.
"As coaches, when you know a guy is out the entire game, I think it simplifies the decisions that you have to make, but I wouldn't trade it for getting them back in the second half."
Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said this week hasn't been any different because he always works everybody in the two-deep, adding that Geathers and Jenkins are receiving the same number of reps.
It is a very different week for Ogletree, the most heralded member of Georgia's 2010 signing class who was a top storyline this past spring, when he was moved up from strong safety. The 6-foot-3, 236-pounder from the Atlanta suburb of Newnan has been energetic in recent practices, but can he control himself Saturday knowing there will be the desire to make up for lost time?
"I'm going to try and go out there and play like I've been doing in the past and not try to think that I can make every play," Ogletree said. "I want to make the plays that I can."
Odds and ends
Georgia freshman receiver Malcolm Mitchell (hamstring) did not participate in Wednesday's 90-minute practice and is doubtful for Saturday. ... Bulldogs senior punter Drew Butler is one of 16 recipients of the National Football Foundation Scholar-Athlete Award, which is accompanied by an $18,000 postgraduate scholarship.