ATHENS, Ga. -- There weren't a lot of positives to be taken from Georgia's 41-17 loss to No. 1 Florida last week in Jacksonville, but there was some good news.
Junior linebacker Akeem Dent made his long-awaited return to the field for the Bulldogs after missing five games with a hamstring injury.
"It felt great to be out and just be with my teammates," said the 6-foot-2, 226-pound Dent, who recorded one tackle in last Saturday's game. "I don't know the exact amount of reps, but I played more in the second half, just working back into the game. You still have those jitters coming back off an injury, but once I got in the flow, I let it go."
"Akeem did well," added John Jancek, Georgia's linebackers coach. "He got in there and played outside linebacker for us and had one really nice hit. The positive thing was he came out of the game and didn't feel any worse than he did going in."
The 2009 season has been quite a test for Dent, who was named the starter at middle linebacker in March and was envisioned as being a lethal sidekick to All-SEC selection Rennie Curran. He played in both the Oklahoma State and South Carolina games, recording eight total tackles, before his injury.
"It's great to have Akeem back," said Bulldogs coach Mark Richt. "I'm sorry he went through what he went through with that injury. Akeem was slated to be a starter going into camp and we thought Akeem and Rennie (Curran) would play side by side a little bit. He also knows how to play the (outside) linebacker positions, but the injury kind of kept him from having the opportunity to prove he could be the mainstay at (middle) linebacker."
There were times when Dent may have been getting close to play, but his quest to return to the field was met with disappointment.
"It was real frustrating for me, but it was something that happened," said Dent, who has started 18 games in his career, with 91 tackles and 1 1/2 sacks. "I knew I couldn't change it, and it was something I had to fight and keep my head and just grind."
"He's an impressive athlete, so it has been disappointing because we've worked together the whole summer, in the weight room and the film room, trying to get as good as we can," said Curran, Georgia's leading tackler with 79. "He started getting those nagging injuries, and it's really tough when you see a teammate who you know really wants to contribute and has worked so hard, and isn't able to.
While recovering, Dent remained extremely engaged in the linebackers' weekly preparations.
"He was in all the meetings, he stayed focused and at different points in practice he'd be out there watching what we were doing and eventually he got to the point where he worked his way in, tried a few things here and there and progressed," Jancek said.
"Basically, you go to rehab every day and work on getting better," Dent said. "During that time I was still watching film and helping prepare the younger guys for the games, making sure they were focused on their assignments and knew what they were doing."
Before his injury, Dent was also a valued special-teams player.
"I'm glad to have him back and hopefully, he'll feel good enough to run out on some of our special teams," Richt said.
"I think at one point, everyone had him on their special teams and he's a guy that's made a number of plays on kickoff and punt team, so I think it's just a matter of him feeling comfortable and the coaches feeling comfortable about putting him back out there," Jancek said.
And while this season has been a difficult one for all who wear red and black, Dent's ready to make the most of what remains.
"I just want to go out and be able to help my team in any way possible," he said.
"It feels good to have Akeem back in the lineup," Curran said. "Akeem's one of those guys that you can always count on. He's dependable, he's always where he needs to be and he makes plays when he has to. He's a real accountable guy.
"I still believe in what he can do, that he can make a substantial contribution toward the end of the season. I'm excited to see what he can do."