ATHENS -- The Georgia defense had a special speaker before Monday’s practice: Cornelius Washington got up and apologized for his Sunday arrest for DUI and speeding.
That led to a two-game suspension for Washington, and it left Georgia without its leader in sacks for two road games.
“He knows what he did. It was a decision. He feels it,” teammate Reuben Faloughi said. “I don’t think anybody’s trying to point fingers at him because he knows that he made a wrong decision. The pressure’s there, so everybody’s just supporting him and making sure these tough times pass for him. And I think he’s really gonna bounce back.”
In the meantime, it appears it will fall to Faloughi, among others, to help fill the massive void left by Washington.
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The candidates to replace Washington during the next few weeks include a highly touted freshman, a former walk-on and a man who has dabbled in male modeling.
Ray Drew was one of Georgia’s most high-profile recruits. He was a consensus five-star recruit out of Thomasville and a Parade All-American. Before the preseason, the outside linebacker spot was considered a two-man battle between Washington and Drew.
But Drew has been slow to come along, only playing in the Coastal Carolina and Mississippi State games. Still, Drew was hopeful that he was beginning to show he was ready to play more.
“One of my strengths in my game is in the pass-rush game,” Drew said Monday. “The one thing they’ve wanted to see out of me a little more is the use of my hands, which I believe I’ve been giving them the past few days. Coach actually said he was gonna text me one day after practice because he was so happy that I used my hands.”
Drew downplayed the significance of a preseason scooter injury that kept him out of practice for a week. He did indicate that the adjustment from playing a 4-3 defense in high school had an impact.
In any case, Drew made clear, in somewhat graphic form, how close he has been hanging to defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, waiting to get into games.
“I’m right there behind him. If he were to (pass gas), I’d be the first one to smell it,” Drew said.
Chase Vasser actually started two games this year, South Carolina and at Mississippi, then was quickly replaced by Washington, who played the vast majority of snaps. Still, the experience should give Vasser a leg up in the competition this week.
Vasser, a third-year sophomore from Gainesville, has been studying to be a model. In the meantime, he still has a football career, with an opportunity ahead of him Saturday at Tennessee.
“You always hate to see a teammate go down, but when you do it’s your time to step up and show the coaches they can trust you,” Vasser said. “So when Cornelius comes back, hopefully they’ll start throwing one of us in all the time to help out.”
Faloughi also has plenty of playing experience the past two years after starting his career as a walk-on. (He has been on scholarship since spring of 2010). Faloughi backed up Justin Houston at the “Will” weakside linebacker role last year, playing in 10 games. And as a freshman sitting out in 2009, he played as the defensive end in a 4-3. That meant he started a lot of plays with his hand down, which the Will linebacker will do, as well.
“Hopefully I’ll get a chance to go after the quarterback this week,” Faloughi said. “That’s what I’ve been wanting to do.”
The coaches could also end up moving another player to the outside spot. As of Monday, there were no evident candidates to make that move.
Whoever ends up in the role, there is a definite void. Not only does Washington have 3.5 sacks, all during the past two weeks, but he was applying consistent pressure as a pass rusher, helping the Bulldogs defense improve against the pass this season.
“Of course Cornelius (leaves) a big gap, we’ve definitely gotta fill it,” Vasser said. “We’re just gonna work out. I know I’m definitely gonna do everything I can, I’m gonna go extra hard this week to try to get better at pass rush. When I’m in there and I get the call for a blitz, hopefully I can contribute somewhat of a pass rush like Cornelius does. Because he’s tremendous at it.”