ATHENS -- The Louisville Sports Commission says they’re going to have their eyes on Malcolm Mitchell this season.
The group, which oversees the annual presentation of the Paul Hornung Award, included Georgia’s Mitchell last week among 44 players on their preseason watch list for 2013. The Hornung Award goes to the player considered the most versatile in college football. You may recall that the Bulldogs’ Brandon Boykin won it following the 2011 season.
But I wouldn’t think the odds of Mitchell winning it this year are very good. Between minor off-season surgery to repair a meniscus tear in his right knee and the coaching staff’s commitment to refining Mitchell’s offensive game, there is a good chance that Mitchell could be much more of a one-trick pony for the Bulldogs this season.
As a sophomore last season, Mitchell came to the rescue for the Bulldogs when early-season disciplinary suspensions severely depleted the secondary. So after catching 45 balls for 665 yards and four touchdowns as a freshman wideout, Mitchell agreed to open last season on defense. He trained with the defense all summer and started three of the first four games at cornerback before switching back to flanker full time.
Mitchell also returned kickoffs and punts for the Bulldogs last year. Though he shared both duties with others, he led the team in kickoff returns with 16 for 360 yards (22.5 ypr) and averaged 5.2 yards on a team-high 11 punt returns.
Whether Mitchell will continue to get special teams work is unclear at this point, but UGA coaches tend to be cautious with their offensive play-makers, particularly those who have incurred an injury. Meanwhile, it has been made pretty clear he won’t be getting any more snaps on the defensive side of the ball – regardless of how many defensive backs are available.
The Bulldogs will be without starting strong safety Josh Harvey-Clemons for the season opener at Clemson due to a one-game suspension. Freshman defensive backs Reggie Wilkerson (knee) and Paris Bostick (toe) will be sidelined for the season due to injuries suffered this summer.
“I doubt he plays any more corner,” Richt said of Mitchell after last season. “I just think he needs to play one position. . . . If he’s going to be the best he can be at either position, I think he needs to concentrate on just one of them, and receiver’s where he’s going to be.”
Mitchell has yet to play a full season as a fully-dedicated wideout. Nevertheless, he was second on the team in 2012 with 572 receiving yards on 40 catches and scored four TDs. Among his scores was a 57-yarder against Georgia Tech and a nifty 45-yarder in the fourth quarter that iced a 17-9 win over then-No. 2 Florida. He has 1,237 yards and 8 TDs in two seasons.
The thought is Mitchell has only scratched the surface as an offensive weapon for the Bulldogs.
“I really only had my freshman year to be at receiver,” Mitchell said this spring “So this is a chance for me to make a big jump. I think I can become a lot better.”
I caught up with Mitchell briefly at the Pigskin Preview last month in Macon. I asked him then what his goals were for this coming season. He mentioned 1,000 yards receiving and double-digit TDs.
“That’s something I would love to accomplish,” he said.
If that comes to pass, there’s a chance this could be Mitchell’s last season at Georgia. A junior, surely he’d be enticed to test the NFL draft.
“It just depends on if I’m mentally ready,” Mitchell said. “I think it goes beyond the talent on the field. It goes into preparation off the field and being able to handle everything. But I haven’t even thought about that. That’s something that should be thought about around bowl time. I want to get all the regular-season games and hopefully the SEC Championship out of the way. Then I’ll have time to think about that kind of thing.”
Crazier things have happened, but all indications are that Mitchell’s versatility will remain sidelined this season. But his big-play prowess will remain on full display.
A week after a pair of unimpressive losses, Georgia Tech regained a bit of its footing. The Yellow Jackets delivered an emphatic 87-57 thrashing of East Tennessee State on Saturday afternoon at McCamish Pavilion to head into their final exam week on an up note.