Bulldogs’ Mitchell benefits as full-time receiver

Malcolm Mitchell is not one to mince words. So when he recently was asked how it benefited him to give up playing defense in order to be a full-time wide receiver, he shrugged and stated the obvious.

“I’ve gotten a lot better at receiver,” the Georgia junior said. “That’s what happens when you boil it down to one thing and try to get better at it.”

But when he’s pressed for details, it becomes evident that Mitchell truly believes Bulldogs fans “ain’t seen nothing yet” when it comes to his potential as an offensive playmaker.

“I’m trying to establish myself as an elite receiver,” Mitchell said. “Somebody who can make plays, not based on athleticism but on knowledge of the game.”

Mitchell already can make a pretty good argument for “elite” status despite not playing a full season on offense.

As freshman, Mitchell missed all or parts of four games because of injury and still managed to catch 65 passes for 665 yards and four touchdowns. As a sophomore, Mitchell spent preseason camp and the first four games of the season (sitting out the first one with an injury) as a cornerback because of suspensions in the secondary. But he still recorded 40 catches for 572 yards and four more scores.

And he has shown a penchant for making game-turning plays such as the 45-yard catch-and-run for the game-clinching, fourth-quarter score against then-No. 2 Florida last season.

After the SEC Championship game, offensive coordinator Mike Bobo made the declaration that Mitchell was his. So for the first time in his career — Mitchell also split time between offense and defense at Valdosta High — he has practiced only on offense for a calendar year.

And everybody can tell a difference.

“Our timing is the biggest thing,” senior quarterback Aaron Murray said. “Him and I are on the same page right now. He knows what I’m looking for. I know how he runs routes and how he’s going to come out of a break when he shifts his weight and stuff like that.”

Said Mitchell: “You just start noticing things. … I’ve gotten better at every aspect of the game when it comes to receiver.”

That’s understandable considering the limited opportunities Mitchell has had to perfect his craft. He had only one other preseason camp before this one to work full time and attend meetings with quarterbacks and receivers, and that was as a freshman, when his head was swimming anyway.

“The first four games (of his) freshman year, everybody was telling me the play,” Mitchell said with a laugh. “Not that I didn’t know. It’s just a different atmosphere. … They didn’t simplify it. You either learned it or you got left behind. Luckily enough all the older players were helping me.”

This time Mitchell spent the whole spring with the offense, then stayed in Athens all summer to run routes and catch passes from Murray and the other Georgia quarterbacks. And now it’s Mitchell who’s helping the Bulldogs’ young wideouts grasp the playbook.

Meanwhile, Mitchell will continue to work as one of Georgia’s primary returners on punts and kickoffs. He said he has worked overtime to improve his skills in that discipline as well.

“Make more plays, help out the team,” Mitchell said of his 2013 goals. “The more plays I make with or without the ball in my hands, the more we’ll have a chance to win.”