ATHENS - Malcolm Mitchell has only been seen by the media at one Georgia practice thus far, and the star receiver was watching while wearing a large leg brace, the result of arthroscopic knee surgery on July 31.
No timetable was set for Mitchell's return at the time, and that remains the case. Head coach Mark Richt demurred on Thursday when asked for an update on Mitchell, and whether there was any chance he could play against Clemson on Aug. 30.
"I don't know. I'd just as soon not get into that," Richt said, with a polite smile.
Richt was a bit more definitive on some other subjects, including the new plan at fullback, how the offensive line and secondary are shaping up, and when two defensive linemen would return.
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This marked the midpoint of preseason practice, and ended up being a sort of state-of-the-Bulldogs press conference as they prepare for Clemson. The notable items:
- Offensive line: Richt said there were "eight or nine" linemen who had shown they could play "SEC level football." But while they could play that many in some games, they still plan to zero in on the best five, and very soon.
"We need to name a starting five here pretty soon, get them working together as long as they can," Richt said. "I would say by the end of the scrimmage we would have a pretty good idea of what we need to do."
Two freshmen could be in the mix, Richt added. It was already known that Isaiah Wynn had been impressive at guard and backup center, but Richt also said Dyshon Sims had done well.
"Not to say they would be starters, but they've shown enough to make us think that they can help us this year as well," Richt said.
- Secondary: There's a longer way here to go as far as clarity, as assistant coach Jeremy Pruitt continues to work in multiple bodies.
"We've got so many working parts there," Richt said. "Jeremy's really put just about everybody out there."
Freshman Rico Johnson and junior Devin Bowman are the latest to receive a lot of reps at other corner, opposite of Damian Swann. At the star, it remains J.J. Green and Malkom Parrish, but Quincy Mauger could train there a lot, as well as Shattle Fenteng. Richt added that Swann could play the star, since he has done so in past years.
At safety, Richt said freshman Dominick Sanders is getting a lot of work there, as well as redshirt freshman Aaron Davis, senior Corey Moore and sophomore Quincy Mauger.
Incidentally, Richt said the defense overall had its best practice of the preseason on Wednesday.
"A lot of good pressure by the front seven, and some good coverage, throughout most of practice," Richt said. "I think they're making good progress right now."
- Fullback: Quayvon Hicks is not being moved back to fullback after the career-ending injury to starter Merritt Hall. Instead the team will focus on training Detric Bing-Dukes, the freshman who moved over from inside linebacker, as well as walk-on Christian Payne, who also moved from inside linebacker.
"They fit the job description, it's just going to be a matter of learning it," Richt said.
Taylor Maxey has also been getting reps with the first-team at fullback.
As for Hicks, the staff is confident that the junior can handle fullback in certain sets without stunting his development at tight end/h-back.
"Him being in there as a tight end, he can easily shift back to a fullback position and know what to do," Richt said. "He's maintained a lot of that knowledge about what the fullback position's about. We feel he can still play fullback snaps without changing rooms and changing his coach."
- Position switches: Richt defended the idea behind the preseason position movves, not only Bing-Dukes but Johnson from receiver to cornerback.
"We do want to make the moves that are best for Georgia," Richt said. "If Detric has a chance to play a lot or even start at fullback - I'm not saying that's what's gonna happen - but if he has the chance to get a lot of playing time, or more playing time as a fullback then as a linebacker right now, then let's get him in position to do that.
"I think the same thing happened with Rico. I mean Rico, we think is a tremendous wide receiver prospect, and will probably develop into a really good one one day. But the need at the cornerback position and his experience at playing cornerback in the past, we felt it was a quicker path as far as him becoming relevant and playing snaps. So we made that move because we think he can help us win. So that's kind of what we're doing."
- Receivers: There doesn't appear much concern about the spate of injuries at receiver, because other than Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley everyone is expected to be ready for the Clemson game.
Half of the team's 14 receivers were either out (Mitchell, Isaiah McKenzie) or limited (Scott-Wesley, Chris Conley, Reggie Davis, Clay Johnson, Kenneth Towns) in Wednesday's practice. But most of the injuries appear to be short-term.
"I think we've got enough in the fold that are experienced, we have a pretty good idea they know what to do when they're ready," Richt said.
- Punter: Junior Collin Barber has the edge in the competition to be the regular punter. But senior walk-on Adam Erickson is still the leader in pooch-punt situations.
Barber held the punting job as a freshman, then found himself in a platoon with Erickson as last year ended, and Erickson was handling all the pooch punts.
"When Collin hits his best ball, we're talking 45-50 yards with some 5.0 hang-times. He can really boom it," Richt said. "Erickson, when he hits his best ball he's more like a 40-45 yarder and a 4.5 hang time. ... It's gonna come down to who can do it best consistently."
- Other special teams: Marshall Morgan will handle kickoffs again, Richt confirmed. But freshman walk-on William Ham is having a good camp and is slated to be the top backup at field goals, extra point and kickoffs.
"Ham has done a nice job. Ham has got ability, he's definitely our No. 2 kickoff guy and No. 2 extra point-field goal guy," Richt said.
As for the return duties, Richt said nothing has been settled. McKenzie has been regarded as the favorite, and it's not clear how long he will be out.
D-line injuries: Richt said he expects defensive linemen Chris Mayes and Lamont Galliard back "relatively soon," perhaps for Friday's scrimmage.
Richt did not describe Mayes and Galliard's injuries. But Mayes returned to practice on Thursday afternoon, albeit in a green non-contact jersey. Galliard was seen walking around in a green jersey, not practicing yet.
Change of plans: The team will hold its second scrimmage on Friday, deviating slightly from the usual plan of holding them on Saturdays in August. There will be a special teams-centered practice on Saturday instead.