UGA had intended Monday’s press gathering with Mark Richt to mainly be about Richt and Todd Grantham’s already expected contract extensions and a look ahead to spring practice, opening March 20.
Unfortunately, the spring break trouble bug bit early, resulting in starting cornerback Branden Smith getting busted for pot in Alabama. Thanks to Georgia’s policy on such things, he’ll miss at least the opening game and possibly the Missouri game as well. With Sanders Commings already suspended for those games and depth problems resulting from dismissals and transfers, suddenly the previously somewhat casual Malcolm-Mitchell-to-defense spring experiment has turned into possibly a career-changer for the rising sophomore wide receiver.
As it stands now, Richt said, Georgia’s top offensive playmaker from last year will be a full-time cornerback in the spring and probably to start the season.
“This spring, he’s going to work almost exclusively on defense,” Richt said. “He may run over there and run a route once in a while or there may be a scrimmage where the offense grabs him and runs a couple of plays that it already knows. The goal for him is to be as proficient as a cornerback as he could possibly be and have enough of a working knowledge where when they work out in the summer, and once we start in camp, he’ll have a pretty good feel of that position.”
“Malcolm was going to play a big role at corner regardless of what happened with Branden,” Richt said. “Our goal is for him to help us on both sides of the ball. I don’t know what’s going to happen in the fall as far as will he go exclusively defensive back or not. I don’t know the answer to that yet. You can’t be at both meetings at the same time, so I feel like early on we’re going to have to have him help at corner and then once Sanders comes back into the fold, then I could see where the time that he spends on offense may increase. He’s got to be ready to play a full game at defensive back at least through Game 2.”
A lot of UGA fans already were worrying about Missouri’s pass-heavy offense and the SEC debut of receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, the consensus No. 1 recruit in the nation, even before the news about Smith. Now, some of them are sweating bullets.
But a starting secondary with Mitchell and experienced backup Damian Swann at cornerback looks pretty good to me. Swann was already going to be competing with Smith for a starting spot. And the taller Mitchell probably matches up better with DGB than Smith, who’s a couple of inches shorter.
As for the impact of the move on Georgia’s offensive prospects, even if he still plays some offense, it probably will mean fewer plays at receiver for Mitchell, who caught 45 passes for 665 yards and four touchdowns when he wasn’t out with a hamstring problem last year.
But, Richt said, “I think we have enough guys that can make plays” with Michael Bennett and Marlon Brown behind Mitchell at split end and Tavarres King, Chris Conley and Rantavious Wooten at flanker. King showed in the bowl game he can be a serious big-play threat and Bennett had some big-time clutch catches last season. Throw in speedster Justin Scott-Wesley and the Dogs should be able to take up the slack created by Mitchell spending more time playing D.
And who knows, Mitchell might wind up becoming a bigger star at cornerback than he was at wide receiver.
So while it’s certainly not an ideal situation having your starting cornerbacks likely suspended and your top receiver starting on defense for your conference opener, the way this plays out still could benefit the Dogs in the long run.
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg