ATHENS, Ga. — No one was more relieved than Sanders Commings when Georgia got through its first two games unscathed.
Now, he's ready to start doing his part.
Commings, a versatile player who can start at either cornerback or safety, has completed a two-game suspension after being charged during the offseason for domestic violence. He is eager to get back on the field for the seventh-ranked Bulldogs, who play host to Florida Atlantic on Saturday.
"It was tough," Commings said Tuesday. "But I've just been practicing hard and making sure I was ready when it was time to come back."
That time is now, and he's not the only one. Linebacker Chase Vasser has served his suspension for a DUI arrest, giving a further boost to a defensive unit that was short-handed for wins over Buffalo and Missouri.
"It feels like everything is starting to come together," nose tackle John Jenkins said. "We're starting to get our guys back."
Still unresolved is the status of two other suspended starters on defense — All-American safety Bacarri Rambo and inside linebacker Alec Ogletree.
Coach Mark Richt has been vague about their transgressions and just how long they'll be out, though it appears Rambo's suspension will last at least two more games. The player's high school coach already revealed that Rambo had a second positive drug test for marijuana, which would result in a four-game suspension under school policy.
Ogletree reportedly was disciplined for a violation of team rules, but it's not known how long he'll be suspended.
"We'll have to wait to see for sure what happens," Richt said, repeating the line he used the first two weeks when questioned about the status of Rambo and Ogletree.
Commings, who started all 14 games last season, was just glad the Bulldogs (2-0) got through what will likely be their toughest test in the early going — last week's trip to Missouri for the Tigers' Southeastern Conference debut. While he watched nervously back home in Athens, Georgia found itself trailing a fired-up opponent in the third quarter, only to score 24 consecutive points for a 41-20 victory.
"I would have felt pretty bad if we had lost and I could've contributed," Commings said.
While he was a bit surprised to be suspended after explaining the circumstances of his arrest to his coach, Commings said he understood that any brush with the law was likely to result in a suspension, no matter who was at fault.
There was some speculation last week that Commings would be cleared to play against Missouri, but Richt said there is no leeway for players to cut time off their suspensions through good deeds or extra work.
Commings said he did make an appeal to reduce his suspension, but indicated that school officials were concerned about setting a bad precedent — not to mention stirring up plenty of negative reaction — if they allowed a suspended player to come back early for a crucial game.
"If they had just flipped it at the last second, it would be like I was coming back just to ensure a win at Missouri," Commings said. "If we had done it months ago, back in the summer, it might have been different."
Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham won't say if Vasser gets to reclaim his starting job Saturday, but he does expect the versatile player to work out of multiple formations in the 3-4 defense. He is effective both rushing the passer and dropping into coverage.
Vasser is just glad he won't have to sit at home watching another game with his parents, as he did last week.
"It was a rude awakening," he said. "I've definitely learned my lesson."
No matter who plays, the Bulldogs should be solid favorites in their next two games against Florida Atlantic (1-1) and Vanderbilt (0-2). All the suspended players are likely to be back by the time they face No. 23 Tennessee (2-0) on Sept. 29.
Commings and Richt are ready to move on.
"He certainly didn't behave as he should," the coach said. "He's paying his debt to society and he paid his debt to the program. I'm glad he handled everything the way he handled it. I think he can move forward and be a real positive person and a positive teammate."
Commings is determined to stay out of trouble.
"I've learned a lot from it," he said. "I've learned I need to put myself around people who bring out the best in me."
Without those four key players, Georgia's defense didn't look its best in the first two games. Lowly Buffalo made a game of it in the first half, putting up 16 points between the hedges. Missouri burned the secondary for two long touchdown passes. Overall, the Bulldogs rank 10th in the SEC in points allowed (21.5 per game) and 11th in total defense (an average of 359 yards).
"A lot of good things happened defensively," Richt said. "But there's still things that have to be cleaned up."
He's not sure where Commings fits into the cleaning process. While cornerback is his preferred position, the Bulldogs are pleased with the play of converted receiver Malcolm Mitchell. Richt pointed out that Commings, at 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds, might be more of a fit physically at safety — at least until Rambo returns.
"We're always going to cross-train Sanders to play both corner and safety," the coach said. "He runs really well. He also covers well. He's smart enough to play both positions."