March 22, 2012

Mitchell a quick study

Malcolm Mitchell has never met Champ Bailey. In fact, the Georgia sophomore said he doesn't know a single player from the NFL.

But should the opportunity ever arise, Mitchell said he would love to talk to the former two-way star with the Bulldogs,who's still going strong in the NFL with the Denver Broncos.

"I'd love to talk to him … I'd probably wouldn't ask him what he bought with his first check," Mitchell said with a laugh. "No, I'd ask him about how much it takes and the work you've got to put in."

Mitchell is starting to find that out for himself.

As promised, the Valdosta native is spending his spring as a member of the Georgia secondary, where he will focus his efforts until it's believed he'll be allowed to play both cornerback and safety for the Bulldogs this fall.

Although Georgia is just two days into spring drills, it appears Mitchell is already making a good impression.

"He's already making plays. He's breaking on balls quicker," linebacker Christian Robinson said. "Even in warm-ups, he's out there barking at people 'look at me, look at me.' He's not being cocky; he just wants to be the best. He's got all the ability."

Fellow corner Damian Swann sees Mitchell making a quick adjustment as well.

"No question. He played it in high school. A lot of guys didn't think he was going to go to receiver and have a big impact like he did last year," Swann said. "A lot of people saw him as a DB. With him coming over and still being able to play it, as long as he's comfortable, he can play fast."

Bailey made it look easy during his years at UGA in the late 1990s.

It wasn't unusual to see the former All-American take anywhere between 80 and 100 snaps in a game, something players like Robinson simply marvel at hearing.

The Bulldog linebacker laughed when asked if he'd like to give it a try.

"I don't know about me, but I know that he (Mitchell) can. He's got a motor and he's competitive. Those guys are rare who can do that and keep going," Robinson said. "He won't play a heavy role on defense like that; he'll be another piece to the puzzle where we want speed on speed and we want athletes. We don't just want defensive players, you don't just want offensive players; you want guys who can play multiple positions and that's the main thing with him."

By now, Mitchell's story is a familiar one to Georgia fans.

Rivals had the former Valdosta Wildcat star as the nation's top-ranked cornerback coming out of high school, and the 30th-ranked player overall.

Although cornerback was his natural home, Mitchell gave offense a try his senior year and responded by setting a Valdosta High single-season record with 77 catches for 1,419 yards and seven touchdowns.

He made such an impression that many of the schools recruiting him gave him the option of picking what position he wanted to play.

Georgia was one, and offense was the choice. But as the season wore on, Mitchell started to have second thoughts - why not do both?

"After the season it was in me, I wasn't going to be satisfied. I wanted to have fun on both sides of the field," said Mitchell, who first admitted his desires during practice for the Outback Bowl. "If that's what they would allow me to do, I was going to be happy. But if they came to realize I needed to play one spot or the other, I was going to happy, too."

He's set one pretty unusual goal.

"I've got a huge dream - get a Pick-6, have a touchdown catch and return a kick for a score," Mitchell said.

Playing receiver has helped him make the adjustment somewhat quicker.

"It helps a lot. On some of their releases I know where they're going," Mitchell said. "That's about the only thing I can key on is their release and whether they're going deep when they're running the post route."

But considering it's only been a year since Mitchell last played the position, it's not like he hasn't forgotten how to play.

"Some things still feel natural as far as breaking on the ball," said Mitchell, who is working at the boundary corner. "Some things are a lot different as far as how to react when they're running their routes because you're going against a whole different skill set of guys."

Time will tell what sort of defensive/offensive split Mitchell actually sees.

With Sanders Commings suspended for the first two games and Branden Smith's status for the opener against Buffalo still up in the air, chances are Mitchell will spend more time on defense than not.

But once the third game against Florida Atlantic rolls around, Mitchell's career as a two-way performer could really take off.

It's a challenge he says he's ready to tackle.

"Talking about it is a lot different than doing it. You come to realize when you get out there and start doing it," Mitchell said. "Say I play four snaps on defense and go over and play four more snaps, then switch back. It's difficult, and I haven't even included special teams. But it's something I want to do. I can't wait."