ATHENS, Ga. — Georgia’s top receiver would like to be able to focus on becoming even better at catching passes and running routes after playing on both sides of the ball this season.
It was a year ago during bowl practices that talk of Malcolm Mitchell as a two-way player – at wideout and cornerback – gained steam.
It became a reality last winter when Mitchell was called on to help a secondary that had question marks because of off-field issues at the position that thinned the depth.
The sophomore spent the spring absorbing the defense and its playbook and started at cornerback until the fifth game, when he re-emerged as a full-time player on offense.
“It’s just finally good to get settled in one thing,” Mitchell said after a recent practice. “It’s a good time to really evaluate my game at wide receiver and get better at what I do.”
Mitchell has a team-leading 40 catches for 572 yards and four touchdowns this season after starting three games in September at cornerback. Mitchell, who played both receiver and defensive back at Valdosta High, was needed on defense because Georgia was without cornerback Sanders Commings for two games and safety Bacarri Rambo for four due to suspensions.
Mitchell figures he’s missed about seven total games at Georgia on offense because of his time on defense and ankle and hamstring injuries that kept him out. Now he could have an offseason with a focus on offense.
“That will be huge having him from the start instead of him having to learn two whole playbooks,” offensive guard Dallas Lee said. “That was asking a lot of him. You could tell he was a little rusty after playing defense the first four games. He was a little rusty coming back to offense as anybody would be going from one side to the other. It will be really nice having him the whole offseason being able to hit game one full stride.”
Especially since Georgia’s first month of the season includes games against Clemson, South Carolina and Louisiana State University.
Michael Bennett, one of the Bulldogs’ top receivers, will be coming off a torn ACL.
The 6-foot-1, 192-pound Mitchell doesn’t know if coaches will ask him to play some defense again. He had 12 tackles and three pass-breakups.
“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,” Mitchell said. “I love playing offense. If we say, `Can you do 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 and what I love playing.”
Mitchell stayed up to speed on defense by going to some meetings until late in the regular season, even after moving back to primarily offense.
He says he still was “rusty” at receiver even by the Oct. 20 game against Kentucky when he had a career-high nine catches for 103 yards.
“I was out there making plays actually not having the technique down that I needed,” he said. “The way practices are set up, you really can’t gain that during the season. It’s the offseason that allows you to do those type of stuff. Those cuts I was making, they were good enough to catch the ball, but were they good enough to break for a 50-yard gain after that? That just comes with the offseason and I didn’t have the offseason at receiver.”
Georgia will lose senior Tavarres King, third on the Bulldogs career list with 2,498 receiving yards and tied for third with 20 touchdowns, along with senior Marlon Brown
“I’m going to miss them, man,” Mitchell said. “Even outside of football. If I needed a car to go hang out with a girl or something like that or I left my wallet at home, anything. Those two have always been there for me, along with a lot of seniors.”
Mitchell wasn’t one of the four receivers to make All-SEC first or second team by the media or coaches, but thinks people know he’s one of the elite receivers in the conference.
“I’m pretty sure whether or not I get that award people will consider that,” Mitchell said.