ATHENS, Ga. -- Alec Ogletree says he did a lot wrong in his first game of the season -- and that’s a bad sign for the offenses Georgia and its junior linebacker will defend down the stretch.
Ogletree was all over the field last weekend against Tennessee in his return from a four-game suspension, recording a career-high 14 tackles and nearly intercepting three passes -- one of which he tipped high into the air, leading to an interception by cornerback Damian Swann.
“Performance wise, I think I did pretty good for it being my first time out, but at the same time, I know I could have done a whole lot better just through reading my keys and doing the right thing,” Ogletree said.
Nonetheless, his performance greatly impressed ESPN Scouts Inc. analyst Kevin Weidl, who attended the game and wrote this week that Ogletree was “the best player on the field” and “one of the most instinctive cover linebackers I’ve seen in a long time.”
As a result, Ogletree jumped from the No. 20 player on the ESPN Scouts Inc. list of top prospects for the 2013 NFL draft all the way to No. 10. He’s listed as the second inside linebacker, behind only Notre Dame’s Manti T’eo.
Despite all that he did well in the game -- leading Georgia in tackles for the sixth straight game in which he participated, flying sideline to sideline and applying heavy pressure off the blitz -- Ogletree said he would have done a much better job had he played his assignments correctly more often.
“Yeah, that and actually catching the ball,” he said with a laugh.
His return allowed defensive coordinator Todd Grantham to shift Amarlo Herrera to the inside linebacker spot alongside Ogletree, and the two sometimes played together, although Michael Gilliard still started and Christian Robinson also contributed, mostly on passing downs.
Grantham expects to use more of the Ogletree-Herrera pairing as the season progresses.
“With Tree coming back, Tree’s a pretty talented guy that makes a lot of plays so somebody has to move somewhere,” Grantham said. “So the decision we made was to move Amarlo to the other linebacker position to get those two guys on the field. I think it’s the right thing to do. We’ll continue to do it. I think it’s going to allow us to get to where we want to go and do the things we want to do and play the way we want to play down the road.”
With Ogletree and Herrera ranking among the team’s best run-stopping linebackers, that tandem could be on the field often Saturday against South Carolina. Gamecocks running back Marcus Lattimore has rushed for 358 yards in the previous two games against Georgia, and slowing him down will be the Bulldogs defense’s main task.
Ogletree has never played against Lattimore -- he said he played only on kickoffs against South Carolina in 2010 and broke his foot the week before Georgia’s 45-42 loss to the Gamecocks last season -- so he looks forward to getting a shot at one of the nation’s top tailbacks.
“It’s not a question of trying to stop him, it’s trying to slow him down and limit him to big plays,” Ogletree said of Lattimore, who is No. 19 among the ESPN Scouts Inc. top 2013 draft prospects. “I think last year we held him throughout the whole game until the fourth quarter, when he got most of his yards. So it’s just a question of everybody doing their job and manning up.”