AUGUSTA - Following the end of spring practice, one of Mark Richt's first order of business was to sit down with Malcolm Mitchell to go over his role.
The message, at least in the short term, was clear: Mitchell will be defense first - but don't neglect offense.
"I told him: You have got to be ready to play defensive back. But anytime they go out and throw and catch you better get reps at receiver, because we want to play you both ways," Richt said before a meeting of the Augusta Bulldog Club.
Mitchell played cornerback this spring, after being one of the team's top receivers as a freshman in 2011. The move to defense was necessitated by several transfers and suspensions (starter Sanders Commings is out at least two games, and starter Branden Smith is also facing suspension following a marijuana arrest).
The Bulldogs like Mitchell's ability at cornerback, where he starred at Valdosta High School. But they don't want to give up his ability to play receiver.
Interestingly, Richt said Mitchell's status as a two-way guy would not prevent him from being a special-teamer.
"Oh yeah. We're gonna give him a chance to be the kick or the punt returner," Richt said.
The concern for Georgia at this point is making sure Mitchell's conditioning will be good enough to play a lot. Richt said they met with the strength staff and nutritionist on Monday morning on things they should do to increase Mitchell's stamina, as well as guard against hamstring injuries. Mitchell couldn't play in the spring game because of a hamstring injury, a malady that also knocked him out of five games last year.
"So now you just don't want to overload him, is the big thing, because if you do you don't get him on either side of the ball," Richt said. "But he absolutely has got to focus and concentrate on being the best defensive back he can be, and keep his skills up as a receiver. Again, as the season rolls on, I got a feeling with the temperature change and with the guys coming back, I think he'll be more freed up to make more plays offensively. But in the beginning he's gotta be ready to play DB."
Richt didn't announce or confirm any of the suspensions, but while Commings is the only announced one, Richt did speak in the plural. (All-America safety Bacarri Rambo and starting linebacker Alec Ogletree are also facing suspension.)
"Some guys won't be able to play in the very beginning," Richt said. "But that's an important part of your team, whether it's through injury or through suspension, if guys aren't there, you've gotta have enough depth and enough strength to be able to overcome that, to be the kind of team you want to be, to be a championship team. So it'll be an early challenge for us but we'll do fine."