As suspensions end, fill-ins become depth

ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia’s defensive veterans are proud of the way their rookies have filled in for four and five absent starters in the Bulldogs’ first two games.

But there is no replacing experience -- and that’s what will return as the Bulldogs’ suspended starters begin to filter back into the defensive lineup.

“Just having some veteran guys back there, it helps relieve you a lot,” senior nose guard John Jenkins said. “But I also have faith in my teammates and the guys that were playing those positions. So I wasn’t really worried, but it just helps to have veteran guys back there.”

The lineup will certainly have a greater veteran presence starting Saturday against Florida Atlantic.

Cornerback Malcolm Mitchell returned from a sprained ankle that kept him out of the opener against Buffalo to start last week against Missouri. Now cornerback Sanders Commings and outside linebacker Chase Vasser -- both projected starters before the season -- will return Saturday from two-game suspensions that followed offseason arrests.

They will join young players like cornerbacks Damian Swann and Devin Bowman, safety Connor Norman and linebacker Amarlo Herrera -- who helped the Bulldogs win both of their first two games without the regulars in the lineup.

“Really I just think we have more depth now because younger guys got to step in and play,” said Commings, who started all 14 games last season. “They played well. Even if all of us would have been playing, maybe we would have done a little bit better, just because we’re more experienced than some of the guys that got to play, but those guys played lights out.”

All-America safety Bacarri Rambo and inside linebacker Alec Ogletree figure to return sometime in the next few games. Mark Richt’s coaching staff still refuses to specify the lengths of their suspensions following failed offseason drug tests.

The lineup will not be back at full capacity until they return, but the presence of Vasser and particularly Commings -- who was unquestionably one of Georgia’s top defensive backs and might have been an NFL draft selection if he left school after last season -- obviously will help a defense that was serviceable without them return to its suffocating ways now that they’re back.

It will be even better if Commings develops stickier fingers, Herrera joked, as he was in position for numerous interceptions last season but allowed the balls to slip through his fingers.

“A lot of people don’t get the headlines, but Sandman’s a great player to me,” Herrera said of Commings. “He’s one of the best corners, I feel. If he would have caught all those picks he dropped, he would have been in the first round.”