Adds comments from offensive coordinator Mike Bobo and defensive coordinator Todd Grantham . . .
ATHENS – Georgia’s Malcolm Mitchell is one conflicted football player.
With the regular season and final exams in the rear-view mirror and a bowl game still a ways down the road, Mitchell has been able to reflect some on the “Great Experiment” that the 2012 season was for him. He went through spring practice and into the season expecting to be a two-way player. He said what came to pass wasn’t exactly what he envisioned, but neither was it anything approaching a disappointment.
In the end, Mitchell played the first four games as a cornerback and the last nine as a wide receiver. He never truly played both in one game, save for an occasional offensive play when he was playing defense. By the fifth game he was essentially a full-time receiver who merely attended defensive meetings. By Game 10 he quit attending defensive meetings altogether.
All that is in the past. It’s what to do in the future that has Mitchell confused at this point. And as the No. 7 Bulldogs prepare for a Jan. 1 date against Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl, Mitchell says he has no idea what the plan is.
“Nothing has been said about it, nothing has been brought up about it,” said Mitchell, who led the team in receptions with 40. “I’m loving what I’m doing now. I love what I did before. So whatever they want to do, it’s their choice. Whatever they need for the team.”
Mitchell stepped up for the Bulldogs when they needed him most. They were without two starting defensive backs — safety Bacarri Rambo for the first four games and cornerback Sanders Commings for the first two — due to disciplinary suspensions. The status of cornerback Branden Smith was unclear — also for disciplinary reasons –until preseason camp.
Mitchell, a 6-foot-1, 184-pound sophomore from Valdosta, started three of the first four games at cornerback while playing defense full time. He accounted for 12 tackles and 3 pass break-ups in that time. He also played an extremely limited number of offensive plays in the third and fourth games. He had a single catch in each, one for 49 yards and another for six.
After Commings and Rambo returned, Mitchell returned to playing offense full time. He had four catches against Tennessee and three against South Carolina before breaking loose for a career-best nine catches for 109 yards against Kentucky. He had the game-sealing touchdown catch in the fourth quarter against No. 2 Florida and became Aaron Murray’s go-to guy down the stretch. He finished with 572 yards and four touchdowns.
As for the two-way player distinction, Mitchell asks a good question: “When did I really do both this season?,” he said “I came in a ran one play and came out. I mean, is that really both ways?”
There’s a chance Georgia may need to tap into Mitchell’s versatility again next season. The Bulldogs lose their entire starting backfield to graduation.
There are candidates on campus to replace them and others on the way via recruiting. But what if the coaches deem Mitchell as a better alternative again?
“The possibilities are the same,” Mitchell said. “I still know the possibilities of doing it. I mean, it’s a huge opportunity to play both and I still stick to that. But is that something I want to continue to do? That’s something that just has to be figured out over time.”
Mitchell said he would need a more “stable” situation if he did it again. That is, how much he’d play each side would need to be more detailed up front.
Mitchell did make this declaration: He likes offense better. The ideal for him, he said, would be playing wide receiver full time while becoming a situational defensive player.
“If I had to pick between offense and defense, one or the other, I’m going to pick offense just because I love doing it,” he said. “Now if you say, can you do a little bit of offense and a little bit of defense? I want that. I don’t want to play full-time defense. I can make that statement. . . . I want to play what I’ve been playing because I love playing it.”
Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo swaid he doesn’t know what the plan is for Mitchell — “That’d be a question for Coach Richt, really; I couldn’t answer that” — but he has said from the outset he would prefer to have Mitchell as a full-time offensive player.
“I would, but we’ll do whatever we need to do as a football team,” Bobo said. “A lot of (Mitchell playing defense) had to do with our situation with suspensions on defense and depth. Hopefully that will be addressed and we can have him full time. But if Coach says he’s going to play both ways, he’s going to play both ways.”
Richt was unavailable for interviews on Monday.
Meanwhile, defensive coordinator Todd Grantham is taking the same tact, saying he’ll do “what’s best for the team.” But he did interject that he believes Mitchell’s up side as a full time defensive player could be through the roof.
“His length and his ability to play in tight coverage and his (ability to) transition allow him to play close to receivers and cover them,” Grantham said. “And he’s a physical guy who can tackle. All those things make him a premier corner. There’s no doubt in my mind he can be one of the best corners in the SEC.”