ATHENS – The idea of a two-way player seems so antiquated. It conjures to mind the days of leather helmets, back before specialization became the norm in football.
But it’s not an outdated concept until you get to the college level. Plenty of Georgia football players went both ways in high school. You know who might have the best arm on the team, other than the quarterbacks? Bacarri Rambo , the safety who was a quarterback in high school, and during lulls in practice still slings it around with teammates.
But could Rambo move over in a pinch if Georgia’s quarterback roster was gutted? Probably not. And will Malcolm Mitchell be able to move over to cornerback, after a year away, and then move back to receiver without losing a step?
The answer could be the difference between the Bulldogs having an average season or a great one.
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That’s why Mitchell, the cornerback-turned-receiver-turned-cornerback again, comes in at No. 1 on our list of Georgia’s most important players for the 2012 season.
Here is how that list has looked so far:
10. Corey Moore, sophomore safety
9. Isaiah Crowell, sophomore tailback
8. John Theus, freshman tackle
7. Shawn Williams, senior safety
6. Jarvis Jones, junior linebacker
5. Kenarious Gates, junior offensive lineman
4. Damian Swann, sophomore cornerback
3. Marshall Morgan, freshman kicker
2. Aaron Murray, junior quarterback
Each of those players is intriguing for this year, for reasons of depth, question marks and impact. But none is as intriguing, or as important, as this guy:
WHY HE'S VITAL: Because how well he plays this season will impact both sides of the ball. Mitchell will start the year as a cornerback, forced into duty because of the attrition and off-field issues at the position. Fellow sophomore Damian Swann may be the No. 1 cornerback, but Mitchell – who played corner and receiver at Valdosta High School – is set to play a key role there at the start of the season. The key there will be the second game, at Missouri, and Mitchell needs to help Georgia hold in check Mizzou’s spread offense. If the Bulldogs survive that game, they’ll be in good position to win the division. Then starting corner Sanders Commings returns from suspension, and Mitchell likely shifts back to receiver. But he’s still likely to get some snaps on offense in the first few games. The opinion here has always been that Mitchell was the team’s top playmaker on offense last year, and while Georgia has depth at receiver, it can ill afford to have him not be a part of the offense in some way. Mitchell’s breakaway ability stretches the defense in a way that opens up things for the short passing game and the run. There has already been a friendly battle royale between the offensive and defensive coaches over where Mitchell plays. It could turn less friendly as the season goes on. Mitchell could assuage the situation by being outstanding on both sides of the ball, and he says he can do that. But Mitchell is likely to find out that’s much easier said than done.
QUOTABLE: “It may be a blessing. I mean the guy’s a player. He may make some plays on defense that we’ll be so thankful. I’m sure he’ll still be able to make some plays on offense and be thankful for that. I think we have enough depth at receiver where we can handle that and manage Malcolm playing X amount of snaps a game.” – Mark Richt, on having to play Mitchell both ways.
BEST CASE: Mitchell, along with Swann and Branden Smith, help lock down Missouri star freshman Dorial Green-Beckham and the entire Mizzou passing game. Then when Commings returns from suspension, Mitchell slides seamlessly back to offense, where he was still able to get a few snaps. The time off from offense, during spring practice and the preseason, doesn’t affect him, and he picks up where he left off last season, giving the team the breakaway receiving threat it needs. His services also aren’t really needed at cornerback, because Swann proves up to the task, and the secondary stays healthy.
WORST CASE: The one year away from defense proves too much for Mitchell, who is overmatched at Missouri. He also doesn’t do much in sparse playing time on offense early in the season. Then when Commings returns, Mitchell has to stay at cornerback because of injuries, and the offense suffers. Meanwhile, Mitchell does not prove to be a shut-down corner, and the two-way experiment results in Georgia going from one very good receiver to a two-way player not particularly great on either side.
FINAL WORD: Georgia needs Mitchell to be good on defense for the first few games. Then it needs the conditions to be right for Mitchell tor return to offense and be as good as last year. If that happens, it might be enough to get the Bulldogs back to Atlanta. But if not, it could be a long season.