Since the start of last season, Alec Ogletree has missed nearly as many games as he’s played for Georgia.
When the inside linebacker is on the field, it’s undeniable that his presence is usually felt.
The junior from Newnan, who missed six games last season after breaking a bone his foot and the first four this season due to suspension, has racked up 39 tackles since returning to the lineup, nine more than any other Georgia player during that stretch.
That’s not exactly surprising. Though he isn’t a returning All-American like linebacker Jarvis Jones or safety Bacarri Rambo and he’s not an outspoken player like defensive teammates Shawn Williams or Sanders Commings, Ogletree is a playmaker.
“Shawn and them are more of the talking and stuff, I’m more just play hard and play fast,” Ogletree said. “Let that do my talking.”
Alec and his twin brother Zander, the Georgia fullback, turned 21 on Sept. 25. He said he got some clothes as a birthday gift, but the real present came against Tennessee a week later.
Rambo and Ogletree returned from four-game suspensions.
Rambo had a second violation of Georgia’s drug-testing policy. Ogeltree and the school haven’t disclosed his transgression.
Ogletree said he tried to practice each week to prepare himself to be ready when he returned.
“I was going to try not to be a newcomer back,” Ogletree said.
He was on the sidelines for home games during the suspension and wanted to be a part of the celebration even after a 41-20 road win at Missouri on Sept. 8.
After watching the game in his room at Athens with some friends, “cheering for the boys to pull it out,” he planned to go to the airport that night to meet his teammates when they returned.
“I ended up falling asleep and not even making it,” he said.
Georgia’s defense heads into Saturday’s game against Ole Miss off its best game of the season, a 17-9 win over then No. 3 Florida, but the unit didn’t lived up to expectations for much of the season.
“You have those regrets or whatever you want to call it that if you were out there maybe you would have made that play,” Ogletree said. “I feel like everybody’s starting to connect like we did last year. It was a great game last week.”
Ogletree has played 12 games since moving from safety to linebacker before the 2011 season, but he’s missed 10 due to injury and suspension.
“Obviously everything didn’t go picture perfect,” linebacker Christian Robinson said. “I know every time he goes out there he’s trying to prove for himself and to everybody that he’s a dominant player.”
Ogletree hasn’t quite been dominant so far this season even though he led the team in tackles with 14 against Tennessee and 11 against Kentucky and is tied for the team lead with five pass breakups.
“Some good, some bad,” inside linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti said in assessing Ogletree’s play. “He’s made some big plays. He’s gotten to a lot of plays. He hasn’t made them all. He wants to make more than he’s made and we would like to see that, too. I think he’s improved as it’s went.”
Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said the 6-foot-3, 232-pound Ogletree, who uses his speed to make tackles from sideline to sideline, played more physical and attacked blocks better against Florida.
Georgia coach Mark Richt agreed.
“I thought this game against Florida was his best game by far of playing downhill and facing the issue like a good middle linebacker does,” Richt said.
Ogletree is projected as a top-20 overall NFL draft pick in 2013 by ESPN draft analysts — Todd McShay has him at No. 16, Mel Kiper has him at No. 19. Most would consider it hard for an underclassman to turn down the millions that would come with being drafted there.
“I don’t know,” Ogletree said. “It’s a long way away to make that decision. Whatever decision, I’ll just try to let God guide me in the right decision and talk to my family.”
Zander insists that he’s on standby to find out what his brother will do.
“I’ll wait to see,” he said. “I’m just like y’all. I’m impatient, too. I’m waiting to see, too.”
If he does indeed turn pro, that would mean Ogletree would have only five or six games left in his Georgia career.
He said he wants to close out this season by doing what he wanted to do from the start — winning an SEC title and getting to Miami for the BCS championships.
“I’m here now and that’s all I’m focused on,” he said. “When it’s time to make that decision, I’ll make it then. As of right now, I feel like I have a whole lot to give here as far as being here to play and finishing out the season.”