Georgia's LB Alec Ogletree ready to lift off against Gators

ATHENS — Georgia’s Alec Ogletree made a tackle Monday in practice and immediately sprang up from the ground as if vaulted into the air off a trampoline, whooping and hollering as he rose. He repeated this post-tackle maneuver several times as teammates looked on and laughed.

“He was out there all hyped up,” outside linebacker Chase Vasser said. “[Monday] was our first fully padded practice and live tackling. When we went ‘team,’ he was jumping around after he made tackles. You could tell he was excited to be back, especially coming back on a great week.”

Ogletree sheepishly tried to downplay his level of exuberance.

“It just kind of looked like that because I’m the only guy out there with fresh legs,” he said with a wide grin. “Everybody else has been playing the whole season. So it might have looked like I had more excitement than them.”

Eventually Ogletree acknowledged he is more than a little pumped up about returning. “I’ve been out for six weeks, and there’s just been a build up of adrenaline in me.”

Georgia is banking that this will be a good thing.

Actually, it will have been eight weeks since Ogletree last played when he suits up at Jacksonville’s EverBank Field against the Gators on Saturday. After entering the season as the Bulldogs’ most anticipated defensive player — he switched from safety to middle linebacker this past spring — Ogletree broke the fifth metatarsal bone in his right foot on the second defensive series of the season opener against Boise State.

Richt announced this week that the 6-foot-3, 240-pound sophomore would return in a starting role at his “Mo” inside linebacker position. Despite the fact the Bulldogs’ defense rose to No. 6 in the nation in total defense in Ogletree’s absence, this is being treated as extremely good news by everybody involved.

“He looked good,” defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said of Ogletree’s return. “I was fired up.”

Said Richt on Tuesday: “He looked fast, looked quick. He didn’t look very rusty to me. I’m sure there will be some rust on him once we get in the game, but he looked good. I think he has total confidence.”

Well, not totally. Ogletree said there has been “a little rust” in terms of getting back to speed on conditioning and scheme. The Bulldogs’ defense has grown significantly in sophistication since that first game.

Junior Michael Gilliard — who is scheduled to start beside Ogletree at the “Mike” inside linebacker Saturday — and freshman Amarlo Herrera have taken the majority of the snaps while Ogletree and fellow starter Christian Robinson (ankle) have been sidelined with injuries. And Gilliard has been particularly effective. He has led in tackles in four of the past five games, leads the team in overall stops with 44 and earned SEC Defensive Player of the Week honors after the Tennessee game.

“I had great confidence in what we could do because of how hard we worked in the offseason and how guys had a different state of mind than last year, the work ethic and stuff,” Ogletree said. “They did a wonderful job as far as stepping into play for both me and Christian.”

Now is a good time for Georgia to have its full complement of linebackers together. The Gators feature perhaps the quickest pair of halfbacks in the country in Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps, and they run myriad passing and running plays to get them in space and isolated in mismatches against linebackers.

Gilliard and Ogletree are the Bulldogs’ swiftest alternatives on the inside, and they are the designated starters.

Said Ogletree of Florida: “They’re probably the fastest team we’ll face all year. Basically we’re trying to prepare for the speed of their game. Otherwise we’re just preparing the same.”

“It really puts a lot of pressure on a defense,” Gilliard said of the Gators’ speed. “It’s going to put an emphasis on us running to the ball and cutting down the cut-back lanes. We know all it takes is one small gap for them to break through and make a great play. So we’re going to have to play real smart, assignment football and make sure nobody is trying to do anybody else’s job.”

And that, for Ogletree, may be the biggest challenge — trying to channel all that pent-up energy into a tangible, usable form.

“I’m going to try to go out there and play just like I’ve been doing in the past,” he said. “I’m not going try to make every play, but just make the plays that I can.”

Just don’t be surprised to see them punctuated with a leap and a yell.