ATHENS – Saturday represented Day 18 of The Great Experiment for the Georgia Bulldogs.
Malcolm Mitchell, arguably the Bulldogs’ most explosive, big-play wide receiver, was moved to cornerback for the 15 days of spring practice back in April. He remained on defense as Georgia completed its third day of preseason camp on Saturday and he’ll stay there at least through the first couple of games of the 2012 season.
What happens after that is anybody’s guess. Ideally the Bulldogs will win those early games, suspended players will move back into their respective defensive positions and Mitchell will go back to hauling in passes from quarterback Aaron Murray. But ultimately how things are going on the football field will dictate how much Mitchell plays and on which side of the ball.
“I’m just there to help,” said Mitchell, who has practiced exclusively on defense since moving there last spring. “If they want me to stay there, I’ll stay there. But right now I’m just going there to help.”
Georgia felt the necessity to move Mitchell after disciplinary issues hit the secondary. Starting cornerback Sanders Commings is suspended for the first two games of the season after pleading guilty to misdemeanor domestic battery charges in February. And the high school coach of free safety Bacarri Rambo has told reporters the All-American will be out the first four games due to a second violation of UGA’s marijuana use policy. Georgia has yet to confirm or deny that information
Meanwhile, the availability of Georgia’s other starting cornerback, Branden Smith, had been unclear until Saturday. Smith, a senior, was arrested for misdemeanor marijuana possession during spring break in March. However, coach Mark Richt announced on Saturday that Smith will not miss any playing time. Smith, who was granted pretrial intervention status in the case, said he passed drug tests administered by UGA and the court shortly after the incident.
Nevertheless, depth in the defensive backfield remains a concern. And in Mitchell the Bulldogs believe they have an all-star corner, whether he is on short-term or long-term lease from the offense.
“He’s a great competitor,” Richt said. “He loves practice, he loves preparation, he loves to win the drill no matter what it is. He loves the challenge of learning a defense, so he won’t have any trouble there. He has great change of direction, he has good ball skills, he’s muscled up since he’s been here. He has a lot of great tools to be a great cornerback.”
Of course, he is an exceptional wide receiver as well. Mitchell managed 665 yards receiving and four touchdowns despite missing three games in the middle of the season due to a hamstring injury. Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo has playfully complained that defensive coordinator Todd Grantham has stolen away prized possession.”
“Coach Bobo has been tongue-in-cheek with some of his comments. He knows that we need Malcolm to play corner,” Richt said. “He understands that, but he also understands he’s a heck of a wide receiver, and he wants to make sure he sees him play a little bit of offense still, even early on.”
Richt said Saturday that he expects to bring over Mitchell to get work with the offense “about seven to 10 days” before the Bulldogs’ season opener against Buffalo. The plan is for Mitchell’s offensive work to increase gradually as Georgia’s defense returns to full strength and the fall air cools the temperatures.
In the meantime it will be all defense all the time for Mitchell.
“Sanders will be back in a couple of games and be back there like he has the last couple of years and everything will return to normal,” Mitchell said. “Hopefully I’ll be able to do both [offense and defense]. If I don’t, that’ll be fine. It doesn’t matter to me, as long as we’re out there having fun and winning games.”