The Valdosta Daily Times
Comfortable. That is how Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray looked last season when he was throwing the ball to then-freshman wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell. Likewise, Mitchell looked just as comfortable serving as one of the Bulldogs’ top receivers, en route to Freshman All-SEC honors.
Then during spring practice, Mitchell lost that comfortable feeling when he started spending more time on the defensive side of the football due to various off the field suspensions of key players, which left the Bulldog secondary thin and lacking depth.
A duel-threat at Valdosta High School, Mitchell was the obvious choice by Georgia coaches to move over to defense and provide depth in the secondary, thus taking away his offensive reps at practice and in games.
When the season began in September, Mitchell was used as a cornerback — a position he played at Valdosta — and a kick returner. He made an impact, too, recording five tackles against Vanderbilt and recovering a fumble against Florida Atlantic.
Then, as players started to return from various suspensions, Mitchell started his transition back to the offense, something that hasn’t been easy.
“A lot of people don’t understand how difficult that shift can be — just getting your feet back right and being able to do stuff,” Mitchell said.
While it hasn’t been easy switching back to the offensive side of the football, Mitchell said the time he spent on the Bulldog defense made him a better receiver.
That was evident in Saturday’s win over Ole Miss when Mitchell made a move to get by a defender and get wide open for Murray to loft a 42-yard touchdown pass on UGA’s first drive of the third quarter. The Bulldogs won 37-10 and inched closer to securing the SEC East Division title.
“If you go back and look at the route, you’ll see I made a move way before I started running vertical,” Mitchell said. “It helps you recognize coverage.”
Saturday’s touchdown catch was Mitchell’s second in as many weeks; he hauled in a 45-yard TD strike from Murray that secured the Bulldogs’ 17-9 win over rival Florida.
While the touchdown was the first of the year for Mitchell, his production on the offensive side of the ball started a few weeks ago when he tied a career-high in receptions with nine for 103 yards in a winning effort over Kentucky.
Despite the recent success, head coach Mark Richt said he can tell Mitchell isn’t as sharp as he once was for the Bulldogs.
“He is practicing better as a receiver,” Richt said. “He’s still maybe not as sharp at getting the hand signals and the little things like splits, who is on the line, off the line, things like that. He is still a little bit rusty; it is nothing at all. He is playing very well.”
Rusty or not, Mitchell will surely be relied on for the remainder of the season after it was announced Sunday night that senior Marlon Brown would sit out the remainder of the season with a knee injury.
Brown’s injury is the second for a Georgia receiver this season; junior Michael Bennett tore his ACL earlier this season.
Brown and Bennett will be missed after they combined for 51 catches for 814 yards with eight touchdowns.