ATHENS – The Bulldogs have completed 18 preseason practices as of Saturday morning and Malcolm Mitchell has yet to take an offensive snap in any of them. And that, the sophomore cornerback/wide receiver said, is fine with him.
“I’m just going with it,” said Mitchell, who gained 665 yards and scored four touchdowns as a freshman receiver last season. “Coach [Mark] Richt and the coaching staff are good at preparing and planning things, so I’m just letting them figure it out and I’ll do what they say.”
For now, Mitchell said he runs routes and catches balls with the quarterbacks only after practices have concluded. Richt said they will start bringing Mitchell over to work with the offense on a limited number of plays during practice about eight to 10 days before the opening game against Buffalo.
In the meantime, Mitchell has concentrated full time on mastering cornerback and nickelback in the Bulldogs’ defense.
“This is a chance to show another side of what I can do,” said Mitchell, who was rated a four-star prospect at cornerback at Valdosta High. “If you get a chance to do something like that you want to take advantage of it. I feel like I’ve done my best to show them what I can do. I’ll know if I’m ready when they let me know.”
By all accounts, Mitchell is sharing time in the No. 1 defensive backfield with fellow corners Branden Smith and Damian Swann. Swann is the primary option for filling the role left open with the graduation of Brandon Boykin. That is, he’s playing the boundary corner in the base defense and then jumping in to cover the slot in a five-DB set. But Mitchell has worked at that as well.
With only 10 practice opportunities remaining, Mitchell said he feels confident now he can do the job on defense.
“I can play faster now because I know what I need to do and I know how I need to do it,” he said. “We’re trying to make sure everybody knows what they’re doing right now.”
Competition in return game
There’s another way Mitchell could get his hands on the football early in the season. He’s one of the main options in the competition to become the Bulldogs’s kickoff return specialist. That job was done last year primarily by Boykin, who had 38 of Georgia’s 48 returns. Mitchell is competing with Branden Smith, freshman tailbacks Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall and redshirt freshman wide receiver Justin Scott-Wesley, among others.
“There’s a lot of great runners back there; we’re going to see who wins the job,” Mitchell said. “We’ve got a lot of people back there who can take it to the house. It’s going to be exciting to see who gets it.”
Smith has the most experience with 23 returns over the last two seasons. Smith and Mitchell are both getting looks at punt return as well, along with freshman Sheldon Dawson.
Mitchell joked that he should have negotiated in kick-return duties when he accepted the move to defense.
“I’m gonna bring that up tomorrow,” he said. “I’m kidding; I’m kidding. If another guy gets it, he was better and that’s better for the team.”
More movement on O-line
Whether it lasts for more than one day remains to be seen, but the Bulldogs on Saturday experimented with moving Mark Beard to left tackle from left guard with the No. 2 unit. Austin Long had been working at left tackle but he was working a right guard with the second unit on Saturday while Watts Dantzler moved from right guard to left guard.
“We just wanted to see Beard on the edge a little big,” Richt said. “We know he’s athletic and we thought going inside might help Long. So we thought we’d just take a peek.”
The move is also a sign that Long is not getting the job done at left tackle.
“He hasn’t played well enough to compete for that starting position at this point,” Richt said. “He’s just got to keep fighting to get into position where if we need to count on him in a ballgame he’s ready to do it. . . . I’ll be interested to see what [line coach Will] Friend’s initial reaction is to that move.”
Saturday was, of course, Georgia’s annual Fans Picture Day over at Sanford Stadium. Georgia players and Richt signed autographs and posed for pictures in the Reed Plaza area of the stadium for two hours in the afternoon. All of Georgia’s other sports teams were also represented.
“Today’s a great day for the Bulldog Nation,” Richt said. “It’s not just a Georgia football thing. All the other sports are involved in this. It’s a great day.”
More poll trivia
Georgia’s No. 6 ranking in The Associated poll released Saturday represents its third-highest preseason ranking in the Richt era. The Bulldogs were ranked No. 3 in 2004 and No. 1 in 2008. They finished 7th and 13th, respectively.
“The year we started No. 1 we won the first three or four games and we dropped every week in the polls,” Richt said with a laugh. “So just because you win doesn’t mean you’ll stay up there. We know we’ve got a long way to go and a lot to prove.”
5 Dogs chosen to LEAD
The Bulldogs had five players named to the Georgia Athletic Association’s Leadership Education and Development (L.E.A.D.) program on Friday. The designees were wide receiver Chris Conley, linebacker Reuben Faloughi, deep snapper Ty Frix, defensive lineman Garrison Smith and linebacker Kosta Vavlas. Student-athletes from 12 other sports also were selected.
According to UGA, the program gives the most promising student-athletes a chance to interact with local, state and industry leaders, who provide them access to their companies and facilities and provide them with resources to allow them to compete for national leadership awards and postgraduate scholarships.
This & that . . .
The Bulldogs practiced for nearly two hours Saturday morning in full pads before breaking up for team pictures, family pictures then, finally, Picture Day. Richt has been notably more positive about how the team has looked since his critical comments following Wednesday’s competition scrimmage. “Three practices ago I was concerned about them being a little dead-legged and just struggling to get through with the type of tempo that we want,” he said. “I shortened these last two practices just a little bit and livened it up a bit with some live tackling. We made it shorter and sweeter and the guys responded well.” . . .
Defensive end Cornelius Washington was getting a lot of work at outside linebacker on Saturday. The senior played outside linebacker the last two seasons but is expected to play primarily at defensive end this season. . . . Wide receivers Tavarres King (lower leg) and Rantavious Wooten (hip) remained sidelined Saturday. Tight end Ty Smith (hamstring) remains in non-contact status.
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