Georgia coach Mark Richt had already suggested that Malcolm Mitchell would start to see some reps at cornerback for the Bulldogs this spring.
But during a 30-minute session with reporters Monday at the Butts-Mehre Building, Richt suggested it might become more of a full-time gig.
"This spring he's going to be working almost exclusively on defense. He may run over and run a route every once in a while or there may be a scrimmage where they run him for a couple of plays he already knows," Richt said. "But the goal for him is to be as be as proficient as a cornerback as he can possibly be and have enough of a working knowledge so once they work out in the summer and when we start camp that he'll have a pretty good feel of that position."
A rising sophomore, Mitchell told reporters recently that he was the one who requested that he get a shot to play some corner, something he did very well as a senior at Valdosta High when Rivals.com ranked him as the nation's No. 1 cornerback prospect.
Richt didn't commit to returning Mitchell to the position on a permanent basis.
"I don't know what will happen in the fall, whether he will go exclusively defensive back or not. I don't know the answer to that yet," Richt said. "But you can't be at both meetings at the same time, so I feel like we're going to have to have him help at corner and once Sanders comes back into the fold, I can see the time he sees on offense may increase. But going up to then, he's got to be ready to play a full game at defensive back until at least game two and after that we'll see."
Monday's news that Branden Smith faces at least a one-game suspension following his arrest Sunday night for misdemeanor marijuana possession did not figure in Richt's decision regarding Mitchell's role this fall after catching 45 passes for 665 yards and four touchdowns as a freshman.
"Malcolm's going to play a big role I think - period, at corner, regardless of what happened with Branden. He's a very talented football player. We all know he's a talented receiver, but he's got tremendous skills as a defensive back as well," he said. "It's already been established that he's going to help us on the defensive side of the ball and our goal is for him to help us on both sides of the ball, because he's obviously got enough of a working knowledge on our offense where if he doesn't get any more in the spring - it's basically going to be review in the spring - we're not going to throw anything really new in and he's sharp enough to where he'll be able to get that in the summer."
But apparently not everyone is pleased.
Richt said that offensive coordinator Mike Bobo and receivers coach Tony Ball "weren't too thrilled" with the decision to move Mitchell.
"But that's the way it goes sometimes," said Richt, who added it was determined that the Bulldogs still have enough depth at wide receiver to at least consider a fulltime switch.
"We think Justin Scott-Wesley will give us a boost. We've got some guys who play so even if we take Malcolm out it's not like the cupboard is bare," Richt said. "We've got some other receivers. We had to sit there and measure if we've still got enough guys who can make plays and I think we do have enough guys who can make plays that we can make that move because we are a little more desperate with depth at corner."
Bulldogs seek out special teams help
Richt revealed that he has reached out to outside to sources outside the Butts-Mehre Building to assist with some of last year's special team woes.
"We had a couple of gentlemen from the NFL come in and we spent time with them, one gentleman from the collegiate ranks to come in and they talked about special teams," Richt said. "We feel like what we're going to do, now we've just got to get the right people in and get it taught properly."
Richt did not reveal who the coaches he sought the help out from, although he did publically thank athletic director Greg McGarity for the UGA Athletic Association footing the bill, not only to send some of his coaches out to visit other programs, but also bringing other special teams experts to UGA.
"He (McGarity) didn't say there was no budget," Richt said. "But we haven't been turned down to do anything in that way, and that's been great."
Bringing coaches into Athens has been the preferred method.
"I prefer to bring people in because they're at our place, we can ask anything we want; we've kind of got 'em. If we go to their place, they may still be working so for two hours you guys watch film and then we'll come in about what you saw," Richt said. "If you got 'em here, there's no where they can hide from you, you know? We had more people come in, which was better, but we did have a couple of coaches take off and see some people out of Athens."
Several in line to return kicks
Richt said he'll be looking at a number of players, not only in the spring, but also preseason, when it comes to deciding who will serve as the Bulldogs' top kick- and punt returner.
"We're going to allow everybody to get their opportunity to do that. We may not have guys returning kicks this spring as much as fielding kicks. We're definitely going to have guys fielding kicks and that's the biggest key. When you have a kickoff man, when's catching the ball there's a lot of space, a lot of safety, they're not right up there in his snout so to speak when he's catching that football," Richt said. "But the punt returner, he's the one who's got to have a lot of nerve and be ready to field that ball when somebody's within inches away. If you catch the ball and drill you within a half a second, they're not going to call anything so you're going to have to be able to do that from time to time so whoever can handle that kind of pressure is the guy who is going to have the best shot of winning that job."
Richt mentioned Smith, Carlton Thomas, Mitchell has three players who would get an opportunity to do both, as well as freshman running back Keith Marshall and perhaps Todd Gurley.
"Historically running backs are guys who have a chance to be kick return men and we've got some new guys who we're going to see what they can do," Richt said. "But I'm more concerned right now with not so much who is returning them, but who can cover, make a tackle in space; who can protect and those types of things."
Veteran backs maturing?
Richt had promising words to say about both Isaiah Crowell and Ken Malcome, two of Georgia's returning backs who he said "may be" turning the corner after what was at times a difficult freshman campaign.
"I think that Isaiah is definitely growing up. He's getting there, but he's really like a lot of freshmen in that it takes a while to get used to the regiment of class, all the academics, the strength and conditioning, the meetings, everything, the scheme to learn what those guys have to learn," Richt said. "It's not very simple, it's kind of tough, but I see a lot of improvement in Isaiah, no doubt."
Crowell led Georgia in rushing as a freshman with 185 carries for 850 yards and five touchdowns.
"To say he's there, he's reached it, he understands the work ethic and everything it takes to be great - I'll say he's in the process of getting there," Richt said. "There are some other guys, too; he just happens to be the one people watch closer than most and everybody asks more about."
Malcome has also caught Richt's eye.
"I tell you what - I'm seeing a lot of positives out of Ken Malcome. Even on the mat (drills). You do that mat drill, the first few times - like a lot of guys, he was struggling. But by the last couple he turned a corner in my opinion. Just talking to our academic people, his change of demeanor and maturity level, he comes in and takes care of business," Richt said. "You don't have to prod him along like you do a lot of freshmen. He's turning the corner. I don't know if he's turned it, but he's turning the corner."
This and that
Yes, in a perfect world, backup quarterback Hutson Mason will redshirt this fall. But according to Richt, he doesn't need to just assume he will. "I don't want Hutson to get into a redshirt mode because if something where to happen to Aaron, he may be the starting quarterback this year," Richt said. "Obviously, if Murray stays healthy, doesn't miss any time, then Hutson will have the opportunity (to redshirt) but he needs to make himself ready just in case."
Richt said that wide receiver Chris Conley (shoulder/wrist) and outside linebacker Sterling Bailey (ankle) will probably be limited in practice once spring drills begin March 20.
Richt said special team specialist Blake Sailors could get a longer look at cornerback. "Blake got an awful lot of corner work as well and he's one of the fastest guys on the football team," Richt said. "He's more mature of a player so he's going to get the chance to show the coaches that maybe he's ready for some extra reps."